Welcome to Field Notes, our Phillips Garden blog about design and horticulture. Follow our designers, gardeners, and landscapers as we create and cultivate real. beautiful. spaces.

Early Spring Garden Care

Here at Phillips Garden, we’re very ready for spring. We’ve been sharpening our pruners, hauling away this past winter’s decorative evergreen branches, and of course, daydreaming about planting!

Still, it’s a tricky time of year. We hardened northerners know all too well that a late frost can appear out of nowhere. As much as we want to tell you to run outside right now and start digging, we’ll preach caution instead: it’s too early for most summer gardening tasks.

As long as the temperature is consistently above freezing, there’s always plenty to do in the garden. Here are some tips on what you should and shouldn’t do during this fickle time of year.

When perennial plants start growing again, the rabbits and deer often turn their attention away from attacking the tender bark of your trees and shrubs. This means it’s now safe to remove the cages, chicken wire, and tree wraps that protected these plants throughout the winter. You should also use a pest-repellent (we like Deer Off) on your emerging bulbs to keep the rabbits and deer from munching on the flower buds.


If you didn’t clean your garden thoroughly in the fall, there are probably messy clumps of dead leaves and stems everywhere. For hardy perennials, you can now safely remove all leaf cover and protective straw mulch. Snipping off last year’s dead growth is also ok, especially if there was any diseased plant material. Keep an eye on the weather to avoid any frosts, but also watch for warm temps, which can cause mold growth on covered plants.


Postpone your summer plantings until there’s no longer any frost risk. April annuals should be cold tolerant, so limit yourself to tough contenders like bulbs, English ivy, kale, and pansies. Don’t plant tropical annuals outside until the middle of May at the very earliest!


Early spring is an excellent time to prune shrubs that bloom on their new growth, especially those that benefit from rejuvenation pruning. “Coppicing” is the practice of cutting a shrub or tree back almost all the way to the ground so that it produces new growth. We often use this practice for flame willows and red-twig dogwoods because these plants have beautiful brightly-colored young branches. Cutting down the old growth forces plants to put their energy into creating these gorgeous new stems. For other shrubs, remove any dead branches you see and then do your research before performing additional pruning. Many shrubs only flower on old growth, so spring pruning might remove flowers for the upcoming season.

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Remember all of the things that went wrong in your garden last year? Well, this spring is a chance to fix your mistakes. Spend some time planning, and before you know it, it’ll be time to plant everything. Our Phillips staff would be happy to meet with you to do some brainstorming -- just give us a call!

Spring is finally here! Let’s enjoy it.