Get your garden spring-ready

A guide to getting your garden ready in Alberta’s spring climate

The ground might just be starting to thaw and we may still get a frost, but there’s a lot you can do to start gardening and landscaping in the spring. We spoke to Edmonton’s Maggie Neilson – a landscape designer, horticulturalist, arborist and owner of Deep Roots Garden Design – and Calgary’s Kath Smyth, a horticulturist with the Calgary Horticultural Society, about what you can do to get started in Alberta each month.


March Tips

  • Prune your trees if they have problems. “If you can’t reach it standing on the ground, and it’s bigger or larger than your wrist, you hire an arborist,” says Smyth.
  • Your garden has a skeleton: the open landscape, without the leaves. Inspect the skeleton by walking around.
  • Check that you have all your garden tools, including a pair of goggles, gloves and a sharp pruner, in your shed and make sure they’re clean, too.

April Tips

Week 1:

  • Now is a good time to prune trees and shrubs that have diseased, damaged or dead branches, says Neilson, as it’s less stressful on them and there are fewer insects around to harm them. Prune when most of the snow has melted, but before the buds have broken open.
  • Remove any winter coverings or tree wraps, in Edmonton. Slightly uncover them in Calgary, as the city has more livestock.
  • Plant your sweet pea seeds the first Friday of April.

Week 3:

  • Once the ground is no longer frozen, cut down or remove any old top growth from perennials that were left up for winter interest.

Week 4:

  • While the ground is still bare and before plants begin to grow, toss some compost into vegetable gardens and perennial beds.
  • If the ground has thawed, and you can rake and dig the soil, seed your cold vegetable crops right into the ground. Spinach, bunching onions, lettuce and cabbage are examples of cold vegetable crops.
  • Weed and edge beds.

How to prune:

Make a clean, sharp cut at a slight right angle above an outward facing bud on branches of trees and shrubs.

Do not prune at this time of year:

  • Lilacs
  • Mock oranges
  • Forsythia
  • Any other trees and shrubs that flower in early spring
  • Birches
  • Maples
  • Ash trees
  • Elms (you only prune elms in the winter)

May Tips

Garden centres have plants available around the third week of April, but Neilson says that’s very early as the plants are further advanced than if they came up in your garden. Check native plants to see if the buds have opened before planting.

Week 1:

  • Start to deeply water perennial beds, trees and shrubs once a week if it is a dry spring and it hasn’t rained for two or three weeks. You may otherwise lose plants. In Calgary, there may still be frost in the ground, so don’t overwater.
  • Slowly uncover tender perennials and roses over the next few weeks, watching for frost warnings.
  • Plant new shrubs, perennials and trees that are frost-hardy, that is, that can survive frost conditions. If the ground is very wet, don’t walk on it because you can cause soil compaction.

Week 2:

  • Fertilize your lawn with a spring fertilizer.
  • Harden your annuals off by placing them outside in a sheltered, filtered light location so they can adjust to our climate. Cover them in the evening so they are not exposed to frost.

Week 3:

  • Seed or plant your potatoes (potatoes are warm vegetable crops) right into the garden.

Week 4:

  • After the May long weekend, seed or plant your remaining warm vegetable crops, including tomatoes, right into the garden.
  • Plant your annuals after the risk of frost has passed and when the soil has warmed up. Again, use the May long weekend as your guide.
  • Spring is a good time to plant new shrubs, perennials and trees that are not frost-hardy as the daytime temperatures are not too hot and there is therefore less evaporation. It also allows a whole season for plants to get their roots established.
  • Plant up your containers after the risk of frost has passed.
  • Activate your sprinkling system after the risk of frost has passed.

June Tips

Watch for diseases, slugs and other pests. Remove the foliage on your spring flowering bulbs as they start to brown.

This should lead you into the lazy, hazy days of summer. At this point your garden is all maintenance until you need to start thinking about closing down in September. Regularly harvest your vegetable patch, enjoy the blooms and budding trees and keep up to date with your pruning and weeding to keep your garden in shape.

Week 1:

  • Continue to weed and water deeply if necessary, but water deeply less often to encourage deep roots, and in the morning to prevent evaporation.
  • The whole month of June is a good time to plant new plants, like peppers and beans.

Week 2:

  • If you’re cutting your lawn, raise your lawnmower blade to avoid cutting your grass too short, which will cause it to dry out.

Week 3:

  • Prune any spring flowering shrubs (such as lilacs, mock oranges and forsythia) right after they bloom.
  • Pick off dead flowers to allow them to continue to flower, and lightly trim your shrubs.


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