Spring is here! Time to get out into the garden...

We have made it through the winter and spring time is officially here. Hooray! The lighter mornings and evenings and temperature rise are creeping up on us and with this comes a sense of wakefulness and expectation for the season to turn proper. The birds are getting more vocal, there is the odd bumble bee buzzing around for a pollen snack and the emergent growth of many plants is taking on a vivid, lime green colour as they begin to stretch themselves out after their long winter sleep and limber up for the season ahead.

The garden task list expands at a pace and us gardeners may first also need a little stretch ourselves to ease us into the new season of work ahead - it may be wise to start with just a gentle task or two. Old, broken stems around emerging plants will need to be removed and piles of leaves or other detritus around their bases cleared to give space for the emerging growth to stretch out. Try to leave upright and unbroken old stems and seed heads on for as long as possible as these may still be hosting the last few overwintering insects.

As we get warmed up it is the last chance to transplant shrubs or plant out bare rooted plants if they are to establish well. Vigorous climbers shrub and bush roses should be pruned into shape as well as the hard renovation pruning of old and congested shrubs if they are to survive the butchery and put on some healthy growth this year. Be sure to check for nests tucked away in the plants before pruning, as it is illegal to disturb nesting birds and many will be well underway with the job.

Mulching is a physical, messy job but laying a few cms of a well-rotted organic material around plants in early spring is one of the best jobs to do in a garden. It enriches the soil and its microorganisms, reduces water evaporation and suppresses weeds, all of which provide a healthy environment for plants to thrive.

There’s more that can be done as we gather steam; clumpy perennials can be lifted and divided, hardy annuals can be sown directly outside or more tender ones brought on indoors on a sunny windowsill and new shrubs and herbaceous plants can be planted.

Aim for a good mix of nectar producing plants to encourage pollinators and berry producing plants for the birds as well as some evergreens to provide year round shelter. There are plants to suit all levels of experience and available time to maintain. Also be sure to keep an eye on the weather as it is can be a fickle thing this time of year; winds can be harsh and desiccating and a frost is still a possibility that can be fatal to those tender plants brought out or uncovered too soon.

For some this is about as exciting a time of year as it gets for the garden and it is a joy to be able to see the changes to plants happening so fast after a long and mostly dormant winter. For others it might seem like the job list is never ending and that there is a back to school feeling about getting into gear for the year ahead, in which case it is worth pausing and taking some time to stand still and listen to the birds, smell the air, feel the warmth on a sunny day and notice the expanding palette of colour. Take pleasure in whatever outside space that is available as it will be bursting into beautiful, colourful, scented and noisy life all around.

It’s time to get out and get our hands dirty and join in the fun!

Early Spring Task List:

  • Clear away remaining old and broken stems and detritus from around emergent growth – try to leave on the upright and unbroken stems for last few overwintering insects. (Wildlife Friendly)
  • Prune vigorous climbers that flower on the current seasons growth
  • Mulch bare soil. (Wildlife friendly, Garden Super Task!)
  • Prune shrub and bush roses
  • Renovate prune congested shrubs
  • Lift and divide clumping perennials
  • Transplant shrubs
  • Plant out bare root shrubs and trees
  • Plant new plants – go for nectar and fruiting plants with some evergreen for wildlife interest. (Wildlife Friendly)
  • Sow hardy annuals outside in informal drifts
  • Enjoy your garden!
Elaine Hughes


Elaine is an RHS Gold Medal award winning landscape designer with a special interest in creating beautiful and functional spaces that are also as biodiverse and sustainable as possible. She has designed a wide range of projects including private gardens, community gardens, public areas, schools and community sites.