Planning the Spring Garden

3-4 garden planning Haegele

Elizabeth “Liz” Haegele, owner of Fine Garden Creations

By Pete Prown

It’s early March and time to begin thinking about your garden and landscape, whether it’s a large veggie patch or a few colorful containers on the patio. We checked in with Elizabeth “Liz” Haegele, owner of Swarthmore’s Fine Garden Creations (, for her expert early season tips. Liz, a well-known professional horticulturist in the area, purchased the landscape firm from Swarthmore designer Andrew Bunting (who still consults on many outdoor projects).

“March is the moment to step outside and see what needs to be done, as well as plan the rest of the growing season,” says Haegele, also an ISA Certified Arborist. “In the short-term, cut back shrubs and perennials like butterfly bush (Buddleja), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), lirope, and spent hellebores before they branch out again. At this stage, you can cut them fairly close to the ground and they will rebound nicely. Also walk around your yard and do triage on ‘winter damage’ — look for those dead or broken branches that can be easily pruned now.

“Late winter is also good for cutting invasive vines before they take off in spring, as well as mulching your beds. It’s easier to mulch when you aren’t competing with the emerging foliage — this will help defeat early weeds before they get out of the ground.” On a cautionary note, Liz adds, “Be careful about stepping into garden beds that have wet soil. You may compact the soil, which damages roots and creates fertile ground for weeds.”

What about putting in a new garden bed or hardscape feature? “We install hardscapes such as patios and walkways all year ‘round, except when it’s extremely cold out. If you want a new garden, March is just about perfect to till in a new bed, add raised beds, or create a ‘lasagna’ garden on top of soil or lawn. Same for trees — we plant trees any time, but early spring and mid-fall are best because the weather is mild and the young trees won’t become stressed by heat.”

In all, Liz reminds us to start our garden tasks sooner than later, as it only gets harder the longer you wait. “In your existing garden, the weeds will be up before you know it, so tackle them now with mulch and pruning. And if you’re going to use a contractor for planning or executing larger jobs, remember that they all get very busy later in the season. Besides, it’s never too early to begin thinking about warm weather.”

Pete Prown of Rose Valley is communications editor of Bartram’s Garden ( He can be reached at

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