Spring Gardening Tips

 Spring Gardening Tips

April 1, 2021
Contact:  Rhonda Jessup, Director of Public Relations

Article by Dr. Robert Jason Davis, Assistant Dean for the School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences

If being trapped indoors for the last few weeks and the COVID quarantine have you feeling the blues, perhaps it is time to literally turn over a new leaf!  It’s time to freshen up the homestead with some color provided by seasonal annual and perennial plants.  Over the past year, the quarantine, social distancing, and inability to travel has energized the “home improvement” sector of the economy.  Instead of vacations and travel plans, many Americans have invested in their home by adding vegetable gardens, container plants, and outdoor living spaces.


Before plants begin to bud out is a great time to prune, especially among deciduous plants. For some perennials, like grape vines, it may be too late.  Cutting grapes vines now can be done, but it will lead to excessive “bleeding” from the vines. For perennial plants such as lantana, liriope, etc., it is a good time to prune back dead foliage and stems to allow for a flush of new growth in the spring.  Do not prune azaleas now.  Doing so will remove spring blooms.  After azaleas bloom in May-June is a perfect time to prune.

Weeding and Mulching

I read many years ago that “Weeds do not need any encouragement to grow.”  Anyone that has removed weeds knows this is true.  Weeds do not need fertilizer, water, or even great growing conditions, yet they grow!  Now is a good time to eliminate those late winter/early spring weeds such as henbit, wild garlic (sometimes called onions), and annual rye grass.  In plant beds, you may wish to use a non-selective herbicide from your local garden center or hardware store.  For weeds in your turfgrass, a herbicide may be necessary unless you only have a small area or minimum weed pressure.  With any of these products, please be sure to read and follow the label directions on the package even after applying them, to avoid exposure to children and pets.

Mulch not only ties plant beds and the landscape together, it is great for reducing weed pressure, as well as reducing water loss and heat stress to our plants.  Remember that mulch should be 2 to 3 inches deep to be effective.  There are several options to choose from:


Pine Bark NuggetsCheap

Easy to Install

Available in Bags or Bulk

Can float/fly away

Lower your plant bed pH

Hardwood MulchCheap

Available in Bags or Bulk

Can float/fly away
Pine strawCheap

Typically sold by the bale

Fire hazard near your home

Can be blown away

Fades/Deteriorates in sunlight

Stone/Rock/Brick ChipsPretty stable & lasts for several seasonsHeavy & more expensive than other options
Stained Pallet ChipsVibrant orange colors to dark brownDeteriorates in sunlight
Composted Yard Debris (Ground up sticks and leaves)Cheap or free in many areas

Natural appearance


Great for incorporating in beds to increase organic matter.  May even raise soil pH

Color and Accents

Too often, we overuse plants resulting in landscapes becoming collections of manicured “green meatballs.”  To avoid this, use seasonal color to highlight your landscape.  If you have an established landscape, the easiest way to provide some seasonal color is to incorporate some annuals that provide a “pop” of color.  This spring, the use of marigolds, petunias, geraniums, verbena, salvia, celosia, etc., can help add yellows, reds, and oranges that will break up your line of vision and provide that extra detail that you need.

Annuals vs. Perennials

Often, I am asked if a plant will come back or not.  Typically, annuals last for one growing season.  Perennials on the other hand, may have a period of dormancy, but typically last three or more years.  There are some annuals that have a tendency to reseed themselves, such as violets.  However, most typically do not.  Perennials are more expensive, but are more of a permanent investment to your landscape.

When is it safe to Plant?

When temperatures drop near 32 degrees, we can have damage to soft and succulent plant growth.  Even lower temperatures will result in plant death.  The last frost date for Wayne County, NC is typically March 30.  However, even in early May, we can still have a late frost or nights in which temperatures take a dip.  Therefore, monitor local weather alerts and be prepared to cover plants with plastic overnight or move container plants indoors.  Be sure to remove the plastic as soon as the threat passes, because temperatures under the plastic can quickly rise and burn plants.

When to Water?

To water or not to water?  If plants are in a container and the surface soil of the pot is dry to the touch, then it is time to water.  If the surface is damp, then allow it a little longer to dry out.  Remember, wet conditions and saturated soils can lead to diseases and rot plants.  If the plants are in a ground bed, be sure to look for wilted plants, soil that is lighter, and discolored plants before watering.

UMO Annual Spring Plant Sale

To start your spring gardening project, be sure to visit the University of Mount Olive’s annual spring plant sale. It will be held on Friday, April 16 from 9 AM to 6 PM at the UMO Greenhouse located at 205 Bert Martin Road in Mount Olive.  Plants will include assorted herbs, garden plants, various ornamental annuals including geraniums, perennial plants, sun ferns, hanging Boston ferns, and various hanging baskets.  Come out and support the UMO ag program and its students!

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists.  For more information, visit www.umo.edu.