Spring can be an antsy time in the garden. The weather is warming, evening sunlight coaxes us outdoors, trees and spring bulbs are showing off blooms, yet cold weather threatens the eager gardener who gets started too early.

Nevertheless, as lawns and gardens (and gardeners) begin to wake up in April, the mad rush of planting, pruning, plowing, and sprucing descends with joyful, muddy industriousness.

    Camellia bush with dark pink blooms

    Trees and Shrubs

    If your trees and shrubs are still dormant:

    • Prune any dormant trees and nonflowering shrubs.
    • Plant and transplant bare-root, balled-and-burlapped, and container-grown trees and shrubs.
    • Plant roses just as the buds swell.
    • Apply dormant spray.

    If trees and shrubs are growing and freezing weather has passed:

    • Continue planting container-grown trees and shrubs.
    • Fertilize trees and shrubs.
    • Lightly shear your needled evergreens, being careful not to cut back to bare wood.
    • Prune nonflowering shrubs.
    • Prune spring-flowering shrubs after they bloom.
    • Prune summer and fall flowering shrubs before they set flower buds.
    • Remove any dead wood as a result of cold or storm damage.
    • Uncover winterized roses.
    • Feed roses when green growth is about 2” long.
    • Apply fungicide to get a head start on black spot.
    • Address insects and pests as soon as you spot them. Be on the lookout for aphids – they love tender green shoots.
    • Avoid spraying insecticides on blooming trees and shrubs – so as not to harm bees and other pollinating insects!

    young hyacinth bulb

    Perennials and Bulbs

    Before the last frost:

    • Cut back dead foliage on perennials and ornamental grasses. Be careful not to cut new growth!
    • Plant, divide, and transplant perennials.
    • Gradually remove winter mulch from perennials when they begin to grow. Keep mulch handy in case of a surprise late freeze.
    • Fertilize spring-blooming bulbs (daffodils, hyacinths, etc.) after they bloom. Leave the foliage in place to nourish next year’s blooms.
    • Give tender bulbs a head start by potting them indoors.

    After the last frost:

    • Plant any tender bulbs outdoors.
    • Continue planting perennials, summer bulbs, groundcovers, and ornamental grasses.
    • Plant azaleas, hydrangeas, spring bulbs, and gift chrysanthemums (check out how to grow chrysanthemums) outdoors. Some gift varieties are not cold-hardy, so check the variety before leaving it out over next winter.

    Annuals and Containers

    • Deadhead flowers to promote more blooms.
    • Clean and sanitize summer containers, and plan your design for this summer.
    • Start summer annual seeds indoors.
    • Plant summer annuals (petunias, cosmos, marigolds, zinnias, etc.) after the last frost. Be sure to bring them indoors (or cover them with cloth) during a late cold snap.

    Fertilizing a lawn


    Before the last frost:

    • Lightly fertilize all cool-season lawn grasses (such as fescue and bluegrass). Aerate and dethatch only if absolutely necessary – those tasks are best done in the fall.
    • Begin post emergent weed control.
    • Apply pre-emergent herbicide or corn gluten to prevent crabgrass and other annual weeds.
    • Top-dress lawns and patch bare spots.
    • Lawns will be very soggy, so treat them gently and avoid too much traffic.
    • Test soil pH and add lime (if acidic) or sulfur (if alkaline), following package instructions.
    • Resume your warm-weather watering schedule when grass begins growing.

    After the last frost:

    herb seed packets in gardening container

    Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs

    Before the last frost:

    • Plant fruit trees.
    • Till your vegetable garden as soon as the soil is dry and crumbly. Add amendments, and let the soil settle for about a week.
    • Grow cool-season vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, broccoli, beets, radishes, peas, and carrots.
    • Plant asparagus, rhubarb, and berries.
    • Start seeds indoors for summer vegetables and annual herbs.
    • Plant perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and lavender.

    After the last frost:

    • Plant summer vegetables (such as tomatoes, corn, squash, and peppers) outdoors.
    • Plant annual herbs such as basil and cilantro.
    • Remove mulch from strawberry beds.

    houseplants in front of window


    In colder climates:

    • Repot, prune, and feed your houseplants.
    • Address insect or disease problems immediately.
    • Give a little more water to cacti and succulents that are blooming or actively growing.

    As the weather warms:

    • Move houseplants gradually outdoors once night temperatures stay above 55° F.
    • If you grouped your houseplants in a warm spot for the winter, you can move them back to their places.
    • Care for an Easter lily by keeping it in a cool spot with indirect, bright light.

    Hands with garden gloves holding mulch

    Cleanup and Maintenance

    • Visit a garden center and take in the breathtaking array of plants. Try something new this year!
    • Clean water features and lawn ornaments.
    • Clean out, inspect, and repair bird houses, for the spring nesting season.
    • Put out plenty of food for hungry migrating birds!
    • Watch for hummingbirds in your yard.
    • Observe your garden during the spring thaw and rains. Note and address any drainage problems.
    • Give your yard a good spring cleaning to eliminate hiding places for insects and critters.
    • Add trellises, stakes, and supportive structures to top-heavy plants (such as peonies) before they need them!
    • After the last frost, begin hardening your seedlings by moving them to a sheltered spot outdoors.
    • After the last frost, add aquatic plants to your pond or fountain.
    • Start feeding your pond fish when water temperatures are above 50° F.
    • Apply mulch. Consider adding an organic weed preventer, such as corn gluten, under your mulch to save work later.
    • Check out irrigation systems once freezing weather has passed.
    • Postpone garden work if the soil is soggy.
    • Spread and incorporate winter compost, and start a spring compost pile.
    • Test soil to determine what amendments are needed.

    Further Information

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Danny Lipford

    Danny Lipford


    Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio, TodaysHomeowner.com, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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