Do’s and Don’ts of Spring Gardening

With too much time on his hands during the past few weeks, one friend’s husband gave their seven-year old a Mohawk haircut. Another started tearing down portions of the ceiling in their entryway to install new lighting. (Actually, that was the same guy.) People have been decorating their windows and fences with paint and sidewalk chalk. Some are cleaning their houses from top to bottom. Others are baking copious amounts of bread. For many of us, the warming weather is like a beacon, luring us out into our gardens.

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For all of you heading out into your yard during this extended spring break, here are some do’s and don’ts of early spring gardening:

What not to do:

  • Don’t rush to rake leaves out of your garden beds or cut down dead stems. In the early weeks of spring, many pollinators and beneficial insects are still in diapause (insect hibernation), which means the adults and pupae are sleeping underneath leaf litter and inside of dead plant stems. Waiting until the daytime temperatures are consistently above 50° will give these insects a chance to emerge before their winter homes are cast away. If you do cut down stems, bundle and pile them loosely at the edge of the woods or a quiet corner of your yard to allow the insects time to emerge later this spring.
  • Don’t trim oak branches or dig near oak trees in your yard. April, May and June are typically high risk months for oak wilt, a fungal disease that kills thousands of oak trees every year. Wounded trees risk infection within 15-min of cutting if the wound is not immediately covered with shellac (preferable) or a water-based paint.
  • Don’t rake or fertilize your lawn. Right now, most lawns are still soft and the grass is just beginning to grow. Raking will injure the grass and create bare patches for weed seeds to grow. Adding fertilizer too early in the spring encourages the grass to grow during a time when it should be slow or dormant.


Instead, do this:

  • Rake and shovel up leaves and gunk along your curb line and near storm drains. During the winter and early spring, piles of soggy leaves, mixed with sand, salt and other debris can clog storm drains and cause localized flooding when it rains. This gunk also contain high amounts of phosphorus and chloride that can harm nearby lakes and rivers. Go to to claim the storm drain nearest you and see who else in your neighborhood is helping to keep our water clean.
  • Take an on-line class…or three. Many organizations are offering free online workshops during the COVID-19 shut-down. Here are a few to choose from:
    • Minnesota Extension: Intro to Bumblebee Identification – April 14, 9am-noon; May 27, 1-4 pm; or May 29, 1-4 pm.
    • East Metro Water Resource Education Program: Planting for Pollinators – Apr. 7, Apr. 28, May 4 (6-8pm); Landscaping for Wildlife – Apr. 23 (6:30-7:30pm).
    • Hamline University: Waters to the Sea® Mississippi River Adventure (Free on-line multimedia resources for students in grades 4-8); Mighty Mississippi (1hr virtual field trip)
    • MOSES (Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service): Watch an archived webinar about a variety of farming topics including finance, recordkeeping, promoting High-quality conservation, and organic crop rotation.
    • EARTH CHAPTERS Brown Bag Lunches: Join Pollinator Friendly Alliance for twice-weekly presentations about ecology, conservation, gardening and habitat. Tuesdays @ 1:00 PM:  April 7, April 14, April 21, April 28; Thursdays @ 1:00 PM:  April 9, April 16, April 23, April 30.