Spring Sustainable Gardening Tips
In springtime, the sound of trickling water signals the snow melting in the warmth of a brighter sun. The smell of damp earth indicates the thawing of the ground. The first fuzzy buds begin to form and shoots of green peek through the soil. The plants are waking from their winter dormancy. The birdsong we hear at dawn introduces a different tune - a chipper note in contrast to the quiet Winter mornings of which we’ve become accustomed. The blossoms begin to unfold. The insects and earthworms stir, and newborn animals take their first step, or flight, in this world. We, as humans, feel the need to go outside, shed our heavy coats, then let the sun kiss our skin.
The energy of life, and possibility, is palpable. Here are my Spring sustainable gardening tips:
Plan your garden
Although it’s best done during the dead of winter, there is still a bit of time to plan your garden in early spring. Discover what plants you want to plant based on what you want your green space to look like and what you like to eat. Select plants that naturally thrive in your area, they will also be the most water-wise which will help you conserve water in the garden. Next, sort out where and when you’ll plant them. I like to do this by drawing a top-down view of my garden beds. Consider where you want to place pathways so all side of your bed are accessible without trampling other plants around them. If you have large beds, place small stones on the beds, so you are walking in the same place each time you enter the garden to work. Walking all over the soil destroys the soil structure, and we want our impact to be minimal so the eco-system of the garden can thrive.
Remember that with some crops, you can grow more than one round in a growing season. Re-planting crops after an early harvest allows you to extend the harvest season as well as grow a broader variety of edible plants. For example, planting carrot seeds in early Spring will provide a mid-summer harvest, then you can turn the beds by adding compost and fish emulsion fertilizer just before planting a second round of carrots, or a different crop altogether. You may also consider a companion planting method to benefit both types of plants. Tomatoes and basil do well together because they attract pollinators that will pollinate the tomato blossoms, and beneficial insects that help each plant stay pest-free. Another example of companion planting, is placing fast growing crops like lettuce, near slower growing crops like cabbage. The lettuce will finish production and can be removed just before the cabbage needs more space to expand.
Know your zone
Knowing your climate hardiness zone will help you know what to plant and when. Colder zones will allow for hardy, cool season crops to be planted early in the growing season whereas tender and heat loving plants will require later outdoor planting times. Your zone will also help you select plants that will thrive in your climate and natural hydro-zone.
In early Spring, prune trees to inspire growth in the right places. Prune out the dead branches, as well as the shoots raising up from the ground around the base of the trunk. Prune out the shoots that grow on branches downward toward the ground. Shape fruit tree into the general shape of a satellite, where the center of the tree is open to receive more light. Prune 80-90% of grape vines, leaving only the main two to four vines (that run horizontally from the trunk) intact. Prune about 30-40% of Pear, and stone-fruit trees like Peach, Apricot, Plum, and Cherry trees. Only prune about 20% of Apple trees. In later Spring, when perennial shrubs and herbs have started growing, prune the green portion of the stems down to just above the first set of leaves. This will help them grow bushy throughout the rest of the growing season. Don’t prune the brown woody tissue of herbs, as this will cause die-back.
Soil & No TIll
Avoid compacting the soil and disrupting the soil structure and texture through tilling when the ground is wet in the Springtime. Because you added compost and soil amendments in the Fall, there is no need to add any amendments to the soil in Spring. The compost that was applied in Fall has now leached into the soil, adding good microbes and nutrients. The soil ecosystem has been stabilizing all winter, so we don’t want to disrupt that. The garden beds should be ready for planting. If you did not add compost in Fall, you can mix it into the top 6 inches as soon as the ground is workable. Plan to add this step to your fall gardening list to set yourself up for success next year. You can also take a soil sample of your beds and get it tested to see if the soil is lacking in nutrients, and to discover the soil texture and structure composition. This is especially important if you are gardening in a new space. Testing the soil will give you a good idea of what types of soil amendments you can make to enhance your soil structure and fertility.
Ideally, your compost pile was started in Autumn however, if you don’t have a compost pile, Spring is still a great time of year to begin. Choose a space outdoors that is between 3’ X 3’ X 3’ - 5’ X 5’ X 5’, or you can use a composting bin for small spaces. Begin adding your kitchen scraps, and green and brown yard waste to the pile. Avoid citrus, meat, dairy, oil, human waste, synthetic materials, and diseased or molding plant matter. Keep the pile moist and churn weekly to oxygenate. Your compost pile will not be ready to mix into your garden soil until it takes on the appearance of dark rich soil. Likely not until the coming fall, or spring of next year.
Before weather is warm enough for plants to grow outside, start planting seeds indoors. Using grow lights is highly recommended for optimal plant growth. Planting seeds can be more affordable and more sustainable than buying starter plants from a mass growing nursery. However, if you are short on space and cannot set up shelves with grow lights, then find a reputable organic local grower to purchase plants from. After seedlings are strong enough, and the chance of frost has passed, transfer the seedlings outside to your garden bed. Some cold hardy plants can or need to be planted prior to the last frost. Before planting your starters outside, you’ll need to harden them off. Do this by placing your baby plants outside on a good weather day for just a couple hours in the morning shade. This will allow them to feel the outdoor temperature and breeze, as well as get a tiny dose of real sunlight. Slowly increase the time they spend outside each day for 7- 12 days, then they should be ready to transplant. Remember to keep your plastic containers to use next year, or donate them to your local grower.
I like to direct-sow the majority of my garden outside. I’ve had varying levels of germination success depending on the seasonal weather patterns. When buying seeds and starter plants, always read the label. That will tell you when they need to planted outside and if they need to be directly sowed by seed into the bed as opposed to transplanted. Carrots for example must be direct-sowed in early spring, while kale has little success when started outside by seed, even though it is a cold hearty plant.
Plant cool season crops
As soon as soil is workable, plant your cold hardy crops such as artichoke, broccoli, brussel sprouts, strawberries, kale, radish, chives, and spinach. For small spaces, you can replant radish and spinach every three weeks (after each harvest time) to extend their harvest season. Mix into the soil an organic slow-release fertilizer before planting. A slow-release fertilizer will give the plants a boost of food around the time the temperatures start to rise, instead of right away, which may be too early in the season when temperatures are too cool.
Fertilize Spring bulb flowers
In early spring, as soon as ground is workable, fertilize any bulb flowers that you planted last fall. These flowers will be the first to rise out of the ground and bring color and life into your garden. They will also provide the first nectar for pollinator insects that are waking up after a long and cold winter.
Plant Remainder of your garden
After the last chance of frost has passed, plant the remainder of your veggie patch as well as ornamental plants, shrubs, and trees. Mix in organic pellet fertilizer before planting, or apply a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer after planting, while watering.
Celebrate the Spring Equinox
Each Equinox is a milestone in the solar cycle worth celebrating. Marking the official first day of Spring, the Equinox is a time to celebrate the arrival of a new season and celebrate the renewal of life and possibility. I like to celebrate the Equinox with a planting party, if weather permits. I also like to use this day to turn to my Spring Inner Gardening Practices.
Spring gardening presents a wonderful opportunity to rewild our spirit by syncing with the Spring season through slow and mindful living practices.
To aid you in your efforts to mindfully sync with the Springtime season, I have created a workbook full of journal prompts that coincide with mindfulness practices and the Spring gardening tips I’ve shared. The questions we ask ourselves in this journaling practice inspires a deep internal work and cultivation of true connection to nature, to the self, and to a slower pace of life. Download my FREE workbook here! If you don’t have access to my Archive, simply subscribe, then you’ll always have access to all the free resources I create!
When weather warms and plants begin to grow, begin weeding as necessary. Mulching the flower and garden beds is an excellent way to minimize weeds as well as retain moisture so you can water less frequently. Mulch is also a fantastic way to make garden beds look well manicured. Come fall the mulch can be churned into the soil, which will eventually breakdown and enhance the soil texture.
Install or turn on irrigation system
In the late Spring, after Spring run-off has stopped and the rain storms have mostly subsided, begin supplemental watering with your irrigation system. Sustainable irrigation systems include a drip hose and water meter so that the amount of water used for plant growth can be better controlled. Try using a water measuring device to check the moisture of your soil throughout the season to ensure you are watering just enough, but not too much.
Beware of late frosts
In late Spring, depending on your climate zone, late frosts are still possible. When nurturing young plants remember to keep an eye on nighttime temperatures. If temperatures drop below freezing, then cover your new plants with a cloche, blanket, or tarp to help insulate them from the deadly cold.