32 age-old tips for successful spring gardening

"Growing Together" columnist Don Kinzler reminds readers of things like the best height to mow the lawn and what to do if a late spring frost threatens a garden.

Deep planting allows tomatoes to root along the buried stem and prevents wind whipping.Dave Wallis / The Forum
For main season tomatoes, choose cultivars listed as 65 to 75 days on the label.
Forum file photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

FARGO — The language of gardeners is mysterious. When we cut back the “tops“ of perennial flowers in spring, we remove nearly everything above ground level. But the “top” of a building certainly doesn’t refer to everything above ground level.

Gardeners have a language similar to a secret handshake.

Cutting back the tops of perennials is one of many springtime tasks. The following are 32 quick tips to get going this gardening season.

  1. If you plant asparagus and rhubarb this spring, they should grow two full seasons before harvesting the third year.
  2. If late spring frost threatens your garden, cloth and newspaper protect plants better than cold plastic.
  3. When buying spring garden seeds, purchase extra packets of lettuce, spinach, radish, beets and kale to plant a second crop in the late summer.
  4. Remove blossoms of new strawberry plants during the first half of the season to encourage well-developed plants.
  5. Buy tomato plants with deep green leaves. Plants with yellowish leaves will recover when fertilized, but they’re delayed.
  6. Vegetable and flower transplants grow faster if water-soluble starter fertilizer is added when planting.
  7. Thin carrot, beet, radish and lettuce seedlings to an inch apart to give them room to develop.
  8. Lawns grow best when mowed 3 inches high.
  9. Apples of two different named cultivars are needed within bee-flight distance for best fruit set. Flowering crab apples work.
  10. Newly planted clematis vines require years to develop a well-filled trellis.
  11. Mulch the clematis root zone with 6 inches of shredded bark to provide the cool, moist soil clematis love.
  12. Pinch the central growing point of clematis shoots in May and the number of shoots will double.
    Clematis vines require several years of growth before filling a trellis.
    Forum file photo
  13. Many roses labeled “hardy” aren’t necessarily winter-hardy for the Upper Midwest.
  14. Canadian rose cultivars sold at local garden centers enjoy a winter hardiness not necessarily found in cultivars developed elsewhere.
  15. Peonies can remain in place for a century or more as long as they’re blooming fine.
  16. Potting soil in outdoor containers can be reused many times, and it’s a good idea to replace about a third with fresh soil each spring. If the original potting mix contained slow-release fertilizer, those nutrients will be gone, so fertilize regularly.
  17. Flowers growing in containers by the front door create a welcoming focal point for the front landscape.
  18. Fertilize outdoor geraniums once a week. They’re heavy feeders.
  19. When planting annual flowers, pinch off first blossoms to create stronger plants.
    Pinching out the central growing point of bedding plants like this salvia causes multiple side shoots to form that increase flowering. David Samson / The Forum
    Remove the first blossoms when planting annual flowers to produce a larger, more energetic plant.
    Forum file photo
  20. If you’re not ready to plant items you’ve bought from the garden center, don’t leave them in the garage for more than one day. They’re accustomed to growing in a sunny greenhouse and will quickly go downhill in a dim garage. Instead, locate plants in a sheltered, sunny spot outdoors and move into the garage on chilly nights.
  21. Perennial flowers and flowering shrubs benefit from fertilizer in May and June.
  22. Remove tree wraps from young and thin-barked trees each spring and replace in fall.
  23. Prune hedges so the base is wider than the top to maintain lower foliage.
  24. Check the mature width of new shrubs and allow their full mature footprint to avoid overcrowding.
  25. Young trees grow more quickly if grass is kept away with a 5-foot diameter circle of shredded bark mulch.
  26. Fertilize tulips in spring, and leave foliage intact until it dies back naturally for the best bloom next year.
  27. More young trees are killed by cumulative damage from mowers, trimmers and weed overspray than all diseases combined.
  28. Spring-planted garlic doesn’t grow very large. Fall planting is the norm.
  29. Mulching around tomatoes helps prevent tomato blossom end rot, but delay applying mulch until the soil is well-warmed in late June.
  30. For main crop tomatoes, choose varieties listed as 65 to 75 days on labels. Tomato varieties requiring 90 to 100 days are late for our area.
  31. Peony blossoms don’t require ants to open.
  32. Lilacs can be pruned right after bloom, so you don’t lose this year’s flowers.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at
What to read next
The Minnesota State High School League changed its rules, allowing boys to compete on dance teams for the first time starting in 2019. Now 14-year-old Salman Masood no longer has to learn the Austin High School Dance Team's routines in solitude — he's one of the dancers.
In this week's Fielding Questions, Don Kinzler offers advice for caring for a weeping fig, tips for thinning apples, and tells readers it's not too late to wrap trees to prevent sunscald damage.
Gardening columnist Don Kinzler writes about achieving the proper headspace, which is the space between the potting soil and the rim of the pot.
The Detriot Lakes Breakfast Rotary's 1,000 book giveaway project is making stops in Audubon, Frazee and White Earth as well as Detroit Lakes this holiday season.