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Don Kinzler, Published April 11 2014

Growing Together: Spring to-do list for yard and garden

I enjoy good naturedly teasing Martha Stewart. She’s such easy pickings. Her list of must-do spring gardening tasks includes cooking watercress soup with freshly picked ramps. Just between you and me, I thought a ramp was used to launch a boat in lake country.

A ramp is a wild leek, onion-flavored and native to eastern United States. It’s the latest rage in cooking/ gardening, although it’s been used for centuries. Ramps are perennials reportedly hardy to Zone 4. Easterners apparently go gaga each spring over the emergence of ramps.

Sunny April days prove we don’t need to hunt wild ramps to get our spring garden season “ramped up” in this region. Let’s take a walk around the yard and garden to come up with a list of tasks for the upcoming weeks.


Hand-raking is best when lawns are dry enough to kneel upon without getting a wet spot on your jeans. Too early, and soil is wet and cold, and grass is more easily damaged.

Research recommends waiting with power-raking until lawns have been mowed once or twice to avoid injury to grass crowns. Power-raking benefits lawns containing a buildup of dry, undecomposed thatch thicker than half-inch.

Apply lawn fertilizer just prior to the new flush of green grass growth. If applied too early, fertilizer can be wasted as run-off during spring downpours.

Pruning trees, shrubs

Fruit trees, shade trees, and deciduous shrubs are best pruned before “bud break” (when buds swell and new growth begins).

Pruning of spring-flowering shrubs like lilac and spirea can wait until after blooming, unless they need a drastic cut-back and you don’t mind losing this season’s blossoms.

Evergreen shrubs such as juniper, arborvitae and yew can be pruned now through early June. Trim spruce tree branches now through May. If pines need pruning, a fraction of the fingerlike “candle” of new growth can be removed as it elongates from branch tips but before the candle enlarges into long needles.

Perennial flower beds

Remove protective mulch applied last fall before plants begin growing. Perennial tops that remained during winter should be cut down completely before new shoots emerge from the ground-level “crown.” The decorative tops of ornamental grasses must be removed before new grass shoots intermingle with old dead stems.

Early spring is the season to dig and divide perennials that bloom in mid-to late-summer like hostas, daylilies and tall phlox. Before new growth begins, lift with a spading fork or shovel and separate the crown (portion between stem and roots) into chunks using pruning shears or a knife, and then replant.

If fall mulch was applied to spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, it should be removed before shoots struggle to grow through. A spring application of well-balanced fertilizer maintains healthy-sized bulbs.


Remove cover if roses are still under winter protection. Tender roses and hardy types can both suffer cane dieback during severe winters. Healthy canes are greenish-brown, plump and pliable. Injured canes are brittle, dry and blackish-brown or gray. Prune back to healthy wood.

Hardy non-grafted rose types can withstand dieback to ground level and resurrect from the base beautifully. Tender roses, like hybrid tea types that have a swollen graft knob near junction of stems and roots, are ruined if the above-graft part is killed.

Rose or flower fertilizer applied in spring promotes regrowth and strong flower bud production.

Roses love soil high in organic matter. Apply 2 to 3 inches of peat moss, compost or sheep manure and gently cultivate into surrounding soil.

New plants

Bare-root or still-dormant potted trees and shrubs from garden centers can be installed now, including bare-root strawberries and raspberries.


Spring is ideal for indoor plant rehab. Long days signal houseplants to begin a growth spurt.

Apply Miracle Gro or similar following directions for indoor plants. Repot, pinch and prune. Plants will grow more uniformly if rotated each time you water.


Garden soil can be tilled when a handful squeezed together crumbles apart easily. If soil remains in a mud ball, it’s too early and soil structure can suffer.

Clematis vines can be trimmed to 12 inches above soil level because most growth comes from the base. The rabbits did ours already.

The out-of-this-world fragrance of sweet pea flowers can be enjoyed this summer if seeds are planted along a wire fence or trellis. They should be planted in April after soaking seeds in water overnight to aid germination.

Prepare geraniums that you’ve over wintered for mid-May container planting by cutting back leggy growth to stimulate fresh, bushy side and basal shoots.

We may not be able to celebrate spring by joining Martha Stewart in a bowl of home-picked ramp soup, but I have a hunch we’re enjoying our spring with equal fervor.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.