Spring prep, gardening on the radio and—a giveaway

I love bulbs, but these are still my favorite spring flower.
I love bulbs, but these are still my favorite spring flower.

When I was asked by our local NPR station to do a series on Buffalo gardens and gardening, of course I was happy to help out (i.e., this is a nonpaying gig, like so many I have). My first segment will be on early garden prep, which is still happening here in the Northeast, and perhaps a lot of the upper Midwest as well. I know many of you are way past us.

Of course, the thing is that I don’t do much spring prep. My goal with gardening—in case you haven’t figured this out by now—is to do as little work as possible. Also, I hate to disturb the beds in the early spring. Bulbs are emerging and it’s easy to crush lily buds and mangle tulips and daffodils. I’d rather enjoy my spring flowers than ruin them. And there is soil compaction to consider. But there are a few unavoidable tasks, particularly as I am not big on fall cleanup, either. So I have to finally remove old stalks, surviving dead foliage, and remaining dead leaves. I add some organic amendments for the roses, prune them lightly,  and maybe compost elsewhere. I get as much mileage out of pansies and violas as I can, planting them in containers in early April, with or without bulbs. That is pretty much it until it’s time for serious planting in mid-to-late May. After that,  the season is well underway.

My first radio interviewees are Mike and Kathy Shadrack, Timber Press authors and gardeners known for their hosta expertise and their beautiful terraced gardens above a creek, south of Buffalo. Some of you have visited them. It will be interesting to see and hear what their late April activities might be, as their semirural terroir is very different than mine.

Rt3YW_JGrOi_wu956VWnlEDIxH12C_OmSGutE8TwXKkSfiWoT9_tp2r6VmxG-aiyOcf4s194mMczXcBJ9yP1m4hU4PyGkhrSa4dPKepeQNGGrKQqkpeDLwhCb6T7r6YG0YEIemhcB7Fxww54vn08SJ6-z5o_MXO_i8j2JcAB5onTo3ZIVF9dZ5rf6yfBqJhJHJwoXmI291PGxFn_mAzhNw4And here’s the giveaway. No doubt you’re doing some kind of pruning or lopping right now, regardless of where you are in your gardening season. Fiskars wants to give away some products from their PowerGear2 series of pruners, loppers and shears. (The company refers to these as “tree and shrub cutting machines.”) You can choose which of these you want. Just tell us in comments about your favorite or most-hated spring prep activity. There will be 5 winners, chosen tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10 a.m. EST.

Previous articleThe Left is Hotly Divided on GMOs

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. My most hated spring cleanup is cleaning up after the oak trees have dropped their tassels! Gutters and downspouts get clogged! After that is removing the bush honeysuckles that spring up every where in the Spring!

  2. I don’t know if I hate doing this, but I hate having to do it: cleaning invasive shrubs out of our woods. This overlaps with Gail’s comment, as one of them is Tartarian honeysuckle. The other one is Rosa multiflora. I never get them all, mind you. I just go after the ones bothering me the most, until other chores clamor for my attention.

  3. I only have a small planter in the common area of our courtyard (live in a condo) but I really, really, really hated cleaning up after the roofers were done with our building – yuck! Nails, shingles…you name it it was there. Plus them walking in the beds…but that’s another story. I would put the clippers to work along the path behind the metal car guard (no sidewalks on the main road) that get overgrown by mid summer!

  4. I do as thorough a cleanup as possible in the fall, for two reasons – first of all, the spring weather here in the Finger Lakes is usually so unpredictable that if I waited for good weather, I’d be doing cleanup in June. Second of all, once growth does take hold, it explodes, and I’d end up ripping out most of the new growth with the dead stuff. My biggest pet peeve is trying to find a non-windy day to broadcast my (organic, of course) granular balanced fertilizer. I live on a fairly open corner of a subdivision, and on an average day I’d end up broadcasting the fertilizer all over the damn neighborhood! It’s an event when it’s NOT a windy day here! (grumble, mutter)

  5. My least favorite task is pulling spring onions and violets from the flower and vegetable beds. It doesn’t seem to matter that I’ve been doing this consistently for 11 years, there are always more

  6. Since I garden year round, some of the more typical spring prep tasks happen whenever I can get to them. My most hated is the danged oak leaves & tassels that fall in early spring: not only does the pollen make me miserable but the leaves have to be dealt with for weeks on end. Shoot, I’m still raking, blowing & vacuuming them out of some areas.

  7. I don’t have a “most hated” spring task. I’m just happy to be back outside in the gardens!

  8. Mostly I am just happy to be out in the garden again. That said, there are the dried stalks of last year’s flowers to trim and pitiable attempts to clear out clumps of lesser celadon. And leftover leaves to clear from various hidden corners.

  9. My favorite prep is working & sweetening up the soil. The healthier the soil, the better the plants. Thank you for the chance to win such a wonderful product.

  10. I really dislike cleaning up the rose bushes after winter. There are so many, and they are way too tall. Thank you for the wonderful giveaway.
    ErinLoves2Run at gmail dot com

  11. Clearing out emerging blackberry vines, and grass clumps srouting where I don’t want them. They always seem to find a way up!

  12. I got ahead (briefly) for once and dug out a patch of grass and weeds that I’ll now cover over with mulch. In that small area I beat the dandelion blossoms.

  13. I love cleaning up the fall stuff I didn’t do last fall, but all the new weeds sprouting up? I hate dealing with them…

  14. My most hated spring prep chore is cleaning out the ultra-shallow pond. The way I built it makes cleaning it out totally impractical without removing all the river stones and – get this – individually scrubbing them. Seriously. I actually haven’t done it yet this spring because it sucked so much last year. I might just pitch the stones and paint the copper liner (heresy!) or just dye the water with pond dye….

  15. Cleaning out my hedge surroundings property of all old leaves and all the junk that has blown in it and got stuck

  16. My most hated task — raking and cleaning up the leaves that didn’t get tended to last fall — becomes one of my favorite things …. after I’ve finished and the garden looks so much better. 🙂

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  17. This spring, the most dread chore was pruning back/cleaning up rose bushes. Wow there were a lot of thorns!

  18. Cutting back and piling up the never ending buckthorn that grows around the edges of the field – then again, I do enjoy burning the piles!!

  19. The spring chore I’m least looking forward to right now is cleaning up after the tree service my neighbors hired. They had 4 or 5 trees bordering our properties removed this morning and there’s sawdust and twigs everywhere. They needed access to our yard to get to an overhanging branch and I asked them not to step on my just emerging plants but I don’t think they really paid much attention and I saw my bugloss and lungwort already got trampled. I planted them last spring and waited over a year to see them flower and it’s nice that I got to enjoy the little blue and purple blooms for one whole day. Ugh, I’m dreading going out and seeing what else has been destroyed.

  20. I have to say that I love pruning. There’s just something satisfying about looking at an overgrown or storm-damaged shrub and focusing on how to bring it back to its best. When the plant responds well and I see lush spring growth, its magical.

  21. Sadly, my most hated garden task in Spring is picking up all the trash that has accumulated over the winter. People throwing stuff out of cars and neighbors disposing of things carelessly leaves a huge accumulation of detritus over the winter months. We have some hedges that seem to act as filters for the wind blown debris, ugh.

  22. My favorite Spring prep really is just planting more stuff! I garden year ’round so I prep for the next planting season constantly, I think. This year it’s 18 tomatoes (when I swore two would be plenty), some blueberries in the ground and more in pots, gooseberries (!), and the Yuzu citrus that my son treats like a pet.

    Least favorite is probably evaluating and re-configuring the irrigation system. Apparently I step on a lot of emitters over winter & break them. And last year’s veggie garden drip lines are never right for the new plantings!

    • around here, it’s the squirrels who EAT the emitters…and chew on rubber-insulated phone and electric lines. I guess the jolt doesn’t discourage them in the least.

  23. after I prune the dead branches off all the roses to stimulate new growth given so much die back after last winter. I scrub the base of the roses with wire wool just above the graft. This kick starts new branches to replace the dead however you you get punctured frequently no matter how careful you are.

  24. I love EVERYTHING about spring!! I have so many varieties of plants in my yard & I’ve become the envy of my neighborhood though I’m not done yet!! I had 18 yards of bank sand delivered & spread most of it over my yard to help the centipede grass to grow!! My biggest challenge has been pulling up all of the weeds that have grown over the winter. I use a new reel mower by choice & it’s almost time to get it out & begin using it!! Being single, working alone in my yard gives me the exercise I need!! I’m always looking for new ways to improve my yard’s beauty!!

  25. My favorite spring job is prepping the garden for planting. Adding the mulch, the compost from the winter and worm castings and then turning it all over for the new seedlings and seeds are all steps in the process as I ponder what should go where and think about how good it will all taste in 75 days!!

  26. My favorite spring job is cleaning up flower beds. Removing leaves, weeds, dead growth, etc. I love looking at them all neat and mulched with new growth coming up.

  27. Love puttering and prepping the soil, admiring the early sprouts and listening to the birds. Hate going after the invasives, mainly garlic mustard and multiflora rose these days.

  28. This was my first-ever spring clean-up because we just moved into our first house in October. I got a big kick out of having a yard to clean up this spring. I love the feeling of nearly limitless opportunity! I was less fond of the feeling that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

  29. My most disliked task this year was to prune out all the beaten-down, crushed, broken branches of beloved shrubs and trees due to the record-breaking snowfall in the Boston area this winter. Inkberry hollies, rhododendrons, and viburnums especially did not hold up well. Sigh.

  30. My favourite spring chore is raking out the beds and clearing out accumulated winter garbage (I garden in a big city). Spring seems to be a waiting game, so just cleaning things up a bit feels great!
    Unless it’s picking up dog crap – which is definitely my all-season most hated task.

  31. I agree with Judy-pulling the leaves out of the hedges is the worse spring job. I’ve privet on both sides of the lot. I end up doing it at least twice. By hand. Can’t get them with a rake and blowing makes more of a mess. When I’m done my arms look like I wrestled with a pack of crazed cats.

  32. (1) Weeding out maple seedlings! I have four massive, root-invasive, very beautiful, fearfully fecund maples on my half acre. It would take a team of statisticians to work out how many seeds they produce. I have good soil, so many, many, many sprout. Those I catch in their first year, deep among emerging bulbs, or way down at the base of shrubs, or in the middle of iris and daylily clumps, they’re merely annoying. The exhaustion and cursing and arthritic hands come from those that escaped me that first season, and are now 6 – 12 inches tall, with a tap root sometimes even longer. They’re tough, and take a tough grip to pull out. I look up and curse their huge stately parents.

    (2) Both exhausting and pleasurable, getting new mulch on shrub beds and hedge lines, to keep down weeds including those same maple seedlings. This is one garden task for which I indulge in paid labor: aging joints can help rake mulch into place, but I need young muscle to shift it from the big delivered heap across the property. But what pleasure at the end of a couple of tough days, to see it all in place! And to know I’ve just saved myself untold hours of weeding the rest of the year.

  33. My favorite spring-prep activity is clearing away the dead leaves and discovering the new, green sprouts emerging from the old growth. My least favorite thing about spring prep is cold, wet knees. But it’s a right of passage. Warmer weather is on the way!

  34. I love pruning and clearing the garden. It’s wonderful to find wanted seedlings and insect eggs. I hate battling violets and ground ivy. I just can’t seem to get the upper hand.

  35. My house sits right next to an extremely wooded area and that area can get really unruly so when it gets warmer I have to tame it. The first few days are the hardest but I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I get that area cleared.

  36. One word: Thistles! (They are rampant along the roadsides here, which means hundreds of them pop up all around the house and garden every spring. They have to be removed, with the root intact, or there will be an entire colony of them by the end of the season. Sometimes it truly seems like a Sisyphean task.)

  37. St Gabriel’s BurnOutII seems to have disappeared, so I have to look for another organic weed killer for the invasive Himalayan blackberry spikes along the fence.

    I’m not fond of weeding, and we’re renting, so we’re keeping “capital improvements” down to a dull roar here. Any plants I brought with me from the last house are in planters & half barrels, on a timed drip line. All these planters, once weeded, will get a couple of inches of bark mulch, over the emitters, to conserve water and keep it where it needs to be.

    We also have a narrow gate to the back yard, through which no reasonably sized vehicle can deliver cubic yards of mulch, or level the poisoned & debris-cluttered ground in the back.

    In the Bay Area, we get our rain (or what passes for it in a drought) between October and March, so we have a savannah full of grasses and cheese-weed/mallow to remove. There was some webby sort of weed that was more easily pulled. I’m good for maybe an hour or two for weeding or planting. As suggested in another Rant, I need to put out a pan of water for birds & baby squirrels.

    I miss all the bulbs I had planted, as well as my hedge of rosemaries and lavendars, the named-roses, the fruit & nut trees, and the Japanese maples & wisterias that had been planted the last spring. I miss the bulbs every spring since moving. My one consolation is that the plantings that I did in the last two owned-houses, have been kept by the subsequent owners. Maybe they don’t care for “generica” either.

    I want to finally clean up the back patio, ugly as it is, so that we can eat out there on nice evenings.

  38. My most hated spring task is trying to get ahead of the mugwort, which is already trying to come back with a vengeance. Thanks for the giveaway!

  39. My favorite Spring activity is to pull away the leaves and covers in the flower beds and borders to discover all the wonderful perennials that survived the hard winter. Yesterday I discovered that the butterfly weed is poking through!

  40. The hardest job is cutting the ornamental grasses! They look so great with their height and straw color thru fall and covered in snow but, oye vey!, to cut them down! It’s physically difficult- I don’t have a chainsaw-so either clippers or machete, my arms already ache. Then the cleanup of all the loose straw, blowing everywhere in the wind. Grasses are great thru the summer afternoons, just blowing in the wind!

    • Charlie, down here in the rednecked woods, people just light those big grasses on fire. Hopefully with a hose and probably with a beer in hand… The charred clumps resprout quite quickly.

  41. I actually enjoy the chores, well, most of them. The thing I dread is digging out the invasive plants, threatening plants others have shared with me. Some are quite lovely, but they just don’t behave. i planted them once, years ago and feel I will spend the rest of my life digging those things out.

  42. I apply new mulch to the front garden every year. It breaks my back, but things look so nice after it is done. I prune Indica Azaleas after they bloom. Always a big job, but, again, they look so nice after it is over.

    I hate hauling the huge pots out of the shed, but love planting them each year, usually with Angel Wing Begonias and Caladiums. I love the early Spring-blooming bulbs and perennials, but hate that they don’t last nearly long enough. Where I live, in Georgia, we usually have cold or hot weather, very little Spring temperatures, so I love highs in the seventies while we have them.

  43. Cleaning up the leaves that gathered around shrubs and cutting down stalks are a pain. Also frstrating is trying to get all the invasive weeds yanked out. But i love seeing the hellebores buds and flowers as I remove the dead leaves and there’s something new to see everyday. I just try to overlook the deer and rabbit damage.

  44. I love challenging Mother Nature on the last frost date by sneaking my seed startings out of the warmth of my basement into the garden and I hate that she always wins. I always start enough to try again later.

  45. My least favorite spring chore is the seemingly neverending cleanup of leaves and then catkins from the live oak trees. We have many live oaks on just over an acre so there are a lot of leaves!

  46. Spring is my favorite season of the year. Having the chance to enjoy the warm sun and get my hands back into the dirt – there’s nothing like it. The only thing that I don’t like about spring cleanup is the sore back, hip and hands after just a few hours in the garden. Every year I tell myself I won’t buy any more plants but every year I do. I hate to think that there’s going to come a day I won’t be able to tend to my yard and flower beds. After spreading around 15 bags of mulch a few weeks ago my husband jokingly said he didn’t think we would ‘survive it’ : D But it is so worth it. I love spring !

  47. My favorite spring chore is making a cup of tea and just watching spring emerge. Our yard is a certified wildlife habitat so there’s minimal cleanup (big benefit!) and I leave the wild violets for the woodchucks to eat. However, I am a bit claustrophobic and love to limb up the bottoms of trees and shrubbery so I can see further into the woods.

  48. My least-favorite spring-cleanup task is digging and separating the way-too-big clumps of things like Autumn Joy and Tansy that we didn’t deal with last fall. My most favorite is tucking new little perennials into the now-vacant spots. Both are hard on the back, of course.

  49. My least favorite thing to do in the spring is try again to get all the creeping Charlie out of the garden. I’ve been at this for about 15 years, and am making progress, but if I leave one little root, it’s back again. But I think I’m winning that war! Seems like I always look like I’ve been in a war when I prune the roses!
    But love the finished product!

  50. Like someone else mentioned, I hate seeing plants I had high hopes for dead and having to clean them out.

  51. I love pruning all of the flowers cause it seems to me like it is a miracle cutting things down makes them grow back bigger and better!!! 🙂

  52. Honestly, I just dislike clearing all of the leaves and gunk that gets drawn up over the spring.

Comments are closed.