After a long winter, gardeners everywhere have much work to do to clean up and prepare for the spring season. Removing winter-kill and old annuals and pruning dead branches promotes clean growing conditions and reduces the opportunity for fungus and disease to become established.
Save a Tree
It is also recommended to remove the top few inches of topsoil near the street in tree pits or beds due to salt accumulation after the snow season. Salt burns root systems and can do extensive damage to trees below ground. Salt damage can also show up on the foliage of trees and shrubs long after the winter snow and ice are a distant memory. Some trees—lindens, to name one particularly vulnerable species—are more prone to salt injury. Most municipalities, including New York City, will replace dead street trees with an appropriate variety for free. If you do need to replace a street tree yourself, be sure to choose one tolerant of higher salt levels than found in typical garden soil; non-fruiting ginkgo biloba is one good option.
Spring is also a good time to improve the soil in your garden beds and tree pits prior to planting. However, in your eagerness to get started, avoid the mistake of working the soil when it is too wet. Soil tends to be overly wet once the snow melts in early spring. This is especially true in clay soils. Working wet soil destroys the soil structure and eliminates pore space, which is the percentage or volume of soil taken up by air, which can adversely impact drainage and aeration—just the opposite of what you want to do. If you take a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball that crumbles easily when handled or dropped, the soil is ready to work.