Well, we finally have had a few warm days, which I consider being above 70 degrees. It did rain this week in excess of 4 inches, so everything in the landscape is blossoming from the warm weather. Cleaning up around the outside of the house and lawn and garden is an excellent job for these warmer days, so let’s take a look at how to best prepare for a marvelous garden.
Clean up around the house outside. Rake up any debris, plant, and garbage that has found its way on the outskirts of your home during winter. There should be no plant material up against the foundation of the house; it is a haven for bugs and vermin.
Hopefully, spring rains have washed out your gutters and downspouts. If you notice that no water is flowing, you may need to clean the gutters. Only tackle this if you are completely comfortable on a ladder! Sometimes a good bang on the downspout during a heavy rain will be enough to dislodge the clog, but always check that outside drains are clear.
Make sure to rake out decaying mulch and replace it with new mulch if it is older and kind of nasty looking. Leave a few inches of space around the stems of shrubs or trunks of trees. Mulch lying on trunks can cause rot from too much moisture. Leave the task of bush pruning until after all the flowering is complete. You can then prune and tie for support, as necessary.
As for the garden, it is a little early for planting vegetables. You can sow radishes and carrots, but that is about it. Do not let the warm weather fool you. Around Chicago, we can still have a hard frost through May. Again, rake up any vegetation left from last year. Dig up as many weeds as you can and remove them. Spread some mushroom compost and lightly till in. Add a few bags of garden soil if your garden bed needs it.
Now you are ready for planting. Check for planting dates for the zone you live in. We are in Zone 5; our safe plant date is May 15. Be careful, though, as this does not mean there won’t be a frost after then! I usually wait another week to be safe. If you start too early, you may be out covering up plants due to a late-season freeze. I have done that one too many times. I recommend waiting another week or so to be on the safe side and ensure your garden is ready to go once the warm weather is consistent.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH AND DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO