Use this spring gardening checklist to get your garden in shape before and after last frost. I’ve listed all the essentials to support local wildlife while getting everything in shape for the growing season ahead.
For the bigger picture, I also have a year-at-a-glance overview of Garden Tasks By Season from spring to winter for cold climate gardeners.
Printable Spring Garden Checklist
“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.“ Gertrude Jekyll
I love lists! And this Spring Gardening Checklist is packed with good ideas. No two gardens are the same, but, by reading through it, you will certainly think of things you want to get done in your growing space—no matter what size or style.
And whatever you choose to do, enjoy it!
Spring is peak phenology season, where the amazing inter-relationships between living things are most evident. And experiencing it makes life that much sweeter.
Those of us in cold climates get to witness the incredible transformation from cold, freezing, and snow to the earth bursting forth with new growth. It’s a joy I look forward to each year.
Have a look at the suggestions and grab your free printable in the Resources section.
Spring Gardening Checklist
The number one question I get asked is when is it safe to plant outdoors? This explains how to know what to plant when before your last frost.
Before we start work in the garden, there are a few things to take care of. Timing will depend on your location and resources, of course.
- First, get outside and have a look at the garden. Is there any winter damage? What’s growing? Any repairs needed? Take photos and jot down notes.
- Know your garden zone and last frost date (see Read More for links). That determines when tender plants can cope.
- Look over your notes from last year and start this year’s. The Empress of Dirt printable garden planner can be used year after year.
- Start planning. What do you want to grow this year? Any building projects? Do you want to get a jump start by starting seeds indoors? This has a handy indoor seed starting schedule.
- Organize your seeds | This shows two smart and simple systems.
- Visit plant nurseries. Browse. Dream. Plot. Scheme.
- Stock up on spring seeds, veggie transplants, potting soil.
- Order bulk delivery of soil, compost and mulch. Check for early bird deals.
- Start turning compost pile twice a week if possible.
- Get a soil test from an accredited lab and find out what your soil truly needs. We compared the accuracy of a home soil test kit versus lab results here.
- If you’re starting new beds, consider using the cardboard method to speed things up.
- How to Find and Understand Your Plant Hardiness Zone | And find your last frost date
- Composting 101 | Slow and Fast Methods
- Canadian Seed Company Directory
- United States Seed Company Directory
- 12 Tips for Growing Giant Sunflowers | Hint: you have to start with the right seeds.
2Clean Up Garden Beds
Is It Time for Spring Garden “Clean Up”?
The longer you can hold off tidying up the debris from last year’s garden, the better. Wildlife needs food and habitat throughout the seasons.
If you intend to tidy beds, instead of relying on a specific date, observe the natural signs in your garden.
- Is it near your average last frost date? Or, later (better)?
- Is it consistently warm enough that insects and amphibians are active?
While it’s commonly recommended to wait until night temperatures average 50°F (10°C) or more, animals do not all conform to one set of rules. Some will awaken before this, others after. This is why holding off—or not doing anything—is better.
- Do the minimum needed for your aesthetic or functional needs.
- Try to limit how much you walk in garden beds. There are so many important animals that live in the ground including native bees.
- If you cut back old growth, leave at least 12-inches of stem for cavity nesters.
And spread the word that dead and decaying organic matter brings new life. Once you see it’s purpose, it becomes a thing of beauty.
These are tips and tasks from my garden:
- Avoid walking in garden beds when the soil is damp: you don’t want to crush all those tender roots underground or push down any emerging plant snouts and shoots. If you must do it, put down a wood plank to better distribute your weight. Also be mindful of all the creatures living or overwintering in the soil. The less we disturb them, the better.
- Inspect beds for plants that died over the winter but don’t be fooled by slow-growers. When in doubt, wait! And then wait some more.
- Clear away any mulch used to cover perennials in winter.
- Cut away dead leaves and stems covering perennials when new growth is well underway.
- Remove weeds at roots. Use a thick barrier to suppress invasive plants (ivy, crabgrass, etc.).
- Add any stakes, trellis, or other supports that will be needed.
- Edge beds for a nice, crisp look. This also makes it easier to mow safely without harming plants.
- Add any (organic, slow-release) fertilizers—if needed.
- Add compost to enrich the soil.
- Top with mulch. I currently use 2-inches of finely chopped hardwood chips. Whatever you choose, be sure the rain can get through.
- 7 Weeding Tips Every Gardener Should Know | Smart ways to make it easier.
- How to Safely Prune Hard-to-Reach Branches | The tools that replaces a tree service.
- Beginner’s Guide to Organic Fertilizers for Home Gardeners | Slow and easy wins the race.
- How to Choose the Right Trellis for Clematis | Start right to avoid troubles later.
- How to Make Tomato Cages from Wood | They’re great for any climbing plants.
If you have plants indoors awaiting outdoor planting, most can be gradually transitioned near or after your expected last frost date if the weather is behaving.
The key to successful transitioning from indoors to outdoors or vice-versa, is easy does it!
- Did you stash potted trees in a garage or start bulbs in a container last fall? It’s time to increase light and water.
Once the risk of frost has passed:
- Harden off (transition) indoor seedlings in preparation for transplanting.
- Give houseplants their summer holiday on the patio—but avoid sudden changes and harsh light. It varies by species but many tropical plants will enjoy outdoor living once temperatures are consistently over 60F (15C).
- How to Overwinter Potted Trees | And reintroduce them in spring.
- How to Prepare Indoor Seedlings for Transplanting Outdoors | Also called hardening off.
- Best Temperatures for Sowing Seeds | For warm and cool veggie crops.
- How to Find Your Plant Hardiness Zone | And last frost date.
4Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Grasses
- Remove winter covers including burlap wraps.
- Inspect for winter damage.
- Remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches: this is much easier to do before leaves fill in.
- Look up your specific plants to determine best time to prune for plant health, safety, size, shape, and to stimulate new growth.
- Generally, plants that bloom in late summer or fall are pruned in spring. But you have to check first. The goal is to avoid snipping off buds that will produce future flowers.
- Note any vines needing better trellis or supports.
- Trim back dead growth on deciduous grasses, careful not to cut new growth.
- Cut back late summer and fall raspberries.
- How to Choose the Right Pruning Tool for Your Garden | The right tool makes all the difference!
- What to Prune in Winter and Early Spring | Hurry! It’s prime time for pruning.
- How to Identify and Prune Your Hydrangea | Most don’t need pruning!
- Types of Clematis and How to Identify Yours | Only some types need pruning.
5Sow, Divide, Plant, and Propagate
This has specific tips to know when it’s safe to plant and sow in the spring garden before last frost.
- Plant summer flowering bulbs in containers or in the ground as the soil warms.
- Sow cool weather veggies for early crops when temperatures are suitable.
- Use frost covers, polytunnels, cold frames, or cloches to protect young annuals.
- Get geraniums and bulbs out of storage for spring planting.
- Reseed patchy areas of lawn or use transplants. Or start converting to wildflower ground cover.
- Take softwood cuttings and grow more of your favorite plants.
- Start seeds indoors. Most seeds that benefit from an indoor start should be sown 4 to 6 weeks before last frost but there are plenty of other options as well.
- Start dahlias indoors in containers 4 to 6 weeks before last frost.
New to Veggie Growing?
See How to Start Your First Vegetable Garden Now
- 20 Quick-growing Veggies | Spring & Fall | Plants that don’t mind cooler temperatures.
- 10 Spectacular Fast-Growing Flowers | Annuals to sow from seed.
- Growing Veggies in Containers from Spring to Fall | No room? No problem!
- 10 Plants for Delightfully Early Spring Flowers | Handy list of early bloomers.
- 14 Delightful Early Summer Flowering Perennials | Don’t miss out!
- Grow New Plants from Softwood Cuttings | List of plants to propagate in spring.
6Tools & Equipment
Once the risk of frost is over (we hope), it’s time to get set up for the season ahead.
- Set up garden hoses and rain barrels.
- Check that rain gutters are clear of debris.
- Clean and sharpen garden tools.
- Get wheelbarrow tire inflated.
- Take lawn mower blades in to be sharpened and avoid the rush.
- Remove pond heaters.
- Set up fountains, pond pumps, and put water plants in summer locations.
- Clean out shed and storage areas.
- 6 Smart Tips for Keeping Organized as a Gardener | Avoid overwhelm and enjoy the ride.
- How to Make Good Garden Tools Last a Lifetime | Basic, routine care tips.
- Decluttering 101: How to Let it Go and Get on With It | My best decluttering tips.
- Clean and set up bird feeders and birdbaths.
- Have oriole and hummingbird feeders ready for arriving migrations. See the hummingbird migration map to know where they are now.
- Clean out and set up nesting boxes.
- Phenology: Using Natural Signs and Signals to Grow Your Best Garden| Spring is prime time!
- How to Choose the Right Birdseed | And avoid waste and disease.
- How to Properly Clean Bird Feeders | And birdbaths.
- How to Make Sugar Water for Hummingbirds | Orioles will drink it too.
- Free Nesting Box Building Plans | Bluebirds, chickadees, wrens.
- How to Hand-Feed Wild Birds | It just takes patience and birdseed!
8Patio & Decor
- Set up patio furniture and put out garden art and décor from winter storage. If you didn’t wash it in fall, now is a good time. I use a pressure washer.
- 60 Garden Sign Ideas—Funny, Sweet, & Practical | Give your garden some personality.
- How to Remove Weeds with a Steam Cleaning Machine | A herbicide-free way to control patio weeds.
- Make a Container Water Garden for Your Patio | And add water plants too.
Any big plans for the garden this year? Me? I love to build with wood.
- Greenhouse | Any size!
- Raised beds or tall planting boxes
- Fence or privacy walls
- Ponds or water features
- Shed or tool storage cupboard
- Potting table
- How to Get Comfortable with Power Tools| …so you can make cool stuff.
- Free Raised Bed Building Plans | For a variety of situations.
- DIY Raised Garden Bed with Built-in Privacy Wall | Two in one!
- DIY Lean-to Greenhouse | A new addition to my garden.
- How to Build a Garden Pond | I did this one by myself!
Empress of Dirt
FREE TIP SHEET
Spring Gardening Checklist
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Empress of Dirt
Printable Garden Planner & Notes
An assortment of basic garden checklists, undated calendars, and note pages for planning and tracking your gardening season.
This is a digital file (PDF format) you save to your device to print as much as you like for your own personal use. It is not a physical product.
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Available for Canada & United States only.
Seed Starting for Beginners
Sow Inside Grow Outside
by Melissa J. Will
NEW EDITION | Everything you need to get started with indoor seed starting for indoor and outdoor plants. Grow what you want—any time of year!
This ebook is a digital file (PDF format) you save to your device. It is not a physical product.
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Available for Canada & United States only.
Find Your Frost Dates & Hardiness Zone
Average Frost Dates | Use this calculator at Almanac.com. Enter your city and state or province to find your first and last frost dates and number of frost-free days.
Ecoregion | Learn about the native plant and animal species and environmental conditions specific to your region to better understand why your garden choices matter.
Learn More: Understanding Frosts & Freezing For Gardeners
So, what did I forget? I know there’s always more….
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛