Are You Ready For Spring?

January 31, 2013 | By | Comments (9)
Daffodils & Lenten rose

Daffodils and Lenten rose adorn Grumpy’s garden in February. Photo by Steve Bender.

Where did winter go? Well, for most of us in the South, it was never here. And with the spring thaw nearly upon us, it’s time to ask yourself — is my garden ready for spring? Surely, no question in the world is more important. The following checklist will get you off to a good start.

Planting & Transplanting
Q: Is it safe to plant and transplant trees, shrubs, and perennials now?

A: Yes, as long as your ground isn’t frozen or covered with three feet of snow. Roots in unfrozen soil continue to grow all winter. Note — Grumpy’s advice does not apply to plants in your neighbor’s yard. Leave those alone.

Improving the Soil
Q: I want to plant a new vegetable garden this spring. Should I add compost and other to things to my clay soil now to improve it or should I wait things are really growing?

A: It’s almost impossible to add too much organic matter to clay soil. The organic matter breaks up the clay better than anything else, permitting the easy passage of water, air, and nutrients. But you don’t want to till wet soil, because you’ll likely end up compacting the soil and creating unbreakable clods. So Grumpy’s advice is to starting storing organic matter — chopped leaves, composted cow manure, peat moss, ground bark– near the new garden. When the soil is dry and crumbly enough to work easily, till in the organic matter. Do this several years in a row and your soil will be dang near perfect.

Q: Should I start fertilizing my lawn and outdoors plants yet?

A: In most cases, no. You never want to feed a plant that’s still dormant and not making any new growth. If you do, most of the nutrients will just wash away before they’re used. So don’t fertilize your warm-season lawn (Zoysia, Bermuda, St. Augustine, centipede) until after it turns green. Don’t feed cool-season lawns (bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue) if your soil is frozen. And don’t fertilize other outdoor plants until after they start growing new foliage.

Q: Should I be pruning anything now? Is now a safe time?

A: That depends on the plant. If it blooms in the spring on growth made the previous year (azalea, lilac, forsythia, spirea, loropetalum, ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangea, Lady banks rose, etc.) and you prune now, you’ll cut off all the blooms. However, plants that bloom in summer on the current year’s growth (crepe myrtle, chaste tree, gardenia, ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, ‘Knockout’ rose, angel’s trumpet, hibiscus, etc.) are OK to prune now. And it’s always OK to prune off dead growth.

Covering Bulbs
Q: Leaves of my daffodils and other bulbs are already coming up! Should I cover them on freezing nights?

A: Don’t bother. Many bulbs send up foliage in winter long before flower appear with no harm to the leaves. However, bulb flowers can be damaged by a deep freeze. If your bulbs are in full bloom when a freeze is expected, either cut them and put them in a vase indoors or try piling something light, like pine straw or tree leaves, atop them for temporary insulation.


  1. Shauna

    It is not unlike the time in 3rd grade when I ended up in the back row of school pictures…..and was the shortest one (I blame the lost front teeth and bowl cut for my unfortunate placement…) Hence, my sympathy for my poor, hidden shrubs. Thanks for the advice, and yes, I tend to do a lot of containers in the bed, and a selection of lawn gnomes to aggravate my HOA. Anyway, thanks for the advice, and if you know of any good tutorials on creating a proper raised bed, could you please post? Thanks again!

    April 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm
  2. Steve Bender


    That’s a tough one. The easiest way to improve the drainage is to build a raised bed and put good soil in it. But it doesn’t sound like it’s the right time of year because you would have to take everything out and start over. So plant things in pots instead. Then in the fall or winter, completely redo the bed and raise it up by 6-8 inches. Put the taller plants in back, throw out what you don’t want anymore, and put the short stuff up front.

    April 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm
  3. Shauna

    Steve, I have a question regarding my beds. Apparently, our landscaping was thrown hastily together, with little foresight or care (example: my row of lorapetalums are the first row of my beds, obscuring completely the azaleas and hollies behind them.) The main problem is, the beds have virtually no drainage, so the only things I’ve been able to grow successfully have been ice plants and dracaenas. (There is also no type of weed fabric or preventive beneath the mulch.) Any suggestions for an easy solution to provide some sort of drainage, that doesn’t require completely tearing up the beds? Also, our bermuda seems to be half-dead and I’m wondering about re-seeding, and would appreciate any advice. Thanks!

    April 6, 2013 at 8:14 am
  4. Steve Bender


    Not being able to see the area makes it hard to suggest the right plant. If you go with dwarf Southern magnolia, use one called ‘Teddy Bear.’ As an alternative, consider planting a couple of large Korean or Japanese boxwoods that have been pruned into a cone-shape.

    March 7, 2013 at 10:22 am
  5. Katherine

    Do you have any wise words re dwarf magnolia trees?

    My gardener recommended planting two that lead up my narrow entry way as a focal point to offset the eyes from a brick wall & dining room entry wall corner, our gardenias, azaleas, white roses.

    I understand why but not sure if there is another small tree or narrow shrub would be good in the fill sun/ part shade area…. Its a small knook really…

    March 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm
  6. Steve Bender

    My guess is a type of holly. Are the leaves deciduous or evergreen?

    February 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm
  7. Russell Lampe

    I have a number of trees that have thousands of red berries that are a big favorite of wintering Robins and Cedar Waxwings. I have been unable to identify the trees. They have a profusion of tiny light yellow blossoms, loads of pollen, followed by the berries. The fore mentioned birds just started and finished eating the berries in January. The tree’s leaves are oval in shape and the largest, about 1-1/4 ” long. The berries are 3/16″ to 1/4″ in diameter, with 4 seeds. Another tree hasn’t been touched by the birds yet. I removed a tiny 6-1/2″ twig and counted 87 berries on it. The trees grow 15 to twenty feet high and the multiple trunks bend outward with some ending up parallel to the ground. Can you tell me what this tree is?
    Thank you,
    Russ Lampe

    February 2, 2013 at 3:27 pm
  8. Steve Bender

    I couldn’t agree more.

    February 1, 2013 at 1:03 pm
  9. William Cochran

    Hey Grumpy thought you might be interested in knowing that I saw my first daffodil bloom on Tuesday 1/29/13. I live approx 20 miles north of Atlanta, GA in the city of Alpharetta. Also my quince is loaded with flower buds and it should take just a few more mild to warm days and it will be in full bloom. There is no where on earth like the South in Spring. Everyone should experience Spring in South!

    January 31, 2013 at 7:29 pm

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