There is a romantic notion that the first flowers of spring are the early crocus and snowdrops. The truth is that the first flowers of spring are weeds. But we ignore that. If we were not capable of self delusion, we would not be gardeners, would we.
I had several different kinds of small, mat forming weeds flaunting their tiny white flowers as early as January. I have a whole book on weed identification, so I could look them up and tell you their names, but why bother. When you’re being mugged, the name of the mugger is not your primary concern. I just call them all chickweed, even though I know many aren’t. Not only do they bloom when the trees are still shivering their timbers, they grow vigorously. By now they are the greenest part of the garden and perversely satisfying, but they must go.
As you remove the winter weeds from the perennial garden, this is the time to renew the mulch. Pull out the weeds, pick up the dead leaves, trim off the dead parts of the plants, add new mulch. If there are bulbs growing, scratch in a handful of 5-10-5 fertilizer before mulching. Foot by foot the garden turns from scraggly winter to fresh, new spring. This is perhaps my favorite part of gardening.
The new mulch will prevent new weeds, at least for a while. The organic material will eventually decompose and work its way down, creating soil that you want to run your fingers through. Wandering gardens of benighted friends, I still see unmulched bare soil in otherwise great gardens, and for the life of me I cannot understand why.
In the vegetable garden, you don’t add new mulch, not yet. In fact, you pull off the old mulch. Mulch keeps soil cool, and most vegetables want warm soil, especially things like tomatoes and peppers. This is a good time, though, to dig in new compost. You can rake the mulch back on towards the end of June.
Lawns are a different matter entirely. In lawns you probably don’t want to create bare ground and you certainly don’t want to mulch. (Though I did mulch a narrow strip of grass this spring with coarse wood chips, creating a path where the mower didn’t like to go.)
If you want a perfect lawn ... well, first check your prescription plan. They have medicines for that now. But if you want to get rid of lawn weeds, there are three approaches for different kinds of weeds.
Even I don’t like dandelions. You mow the lawn, and the next day they’re sticking up all straggly again. The traditional approach is to pull them. It doesn’t work. If you leave just a tiny bit of root behind, and you will, they grow right back. I like a spot weed killer ready mixed. Spray each plant, and nothing else, and it dies.
For a heavy crop of broad-leafed weeds, you can treat the whole lawn, usually with a combination application of fertilizer and weed killer, either liquid or granular. But be careful. If you have a lot of weeds, you will end up with a dirt patch. Unfortunately it also kills clover, and I like clover because it makes nitrogen for the grass.
Finally there is the dreaded crabgrass, an annual that grows from seed deposited by last year’s plants. For these you need a pre-emergent weed killer, which prevents the seeds from germinating. This also usually comes combined with a fertilizer, and the time to apply it is now.
Once you have the flower border, vegetable garden, and maybe the lawn weed free, take a breather. But not too long. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, they’ll be back.