Mother’s Day gardening gifts of service

Give Mom a bouquet of garden service this Mother’s Day.

As I was growing up, Mother’s Day meant “gifts of service” by planting flats of red geraniums, white petunias and vinca vine. While today’s gardener may not choose the same plants, the “service” part of the gift has never gone out of style. I don’t know a mom who wouldn’t love to have her little (or grown up) munchkins working away in the yard for her on Mother’s Day. Here are a few ideas to get started.


First, a good, general cleanup would be good. With our late start to spring, many of those early spring tasks such as cleaning out leaf litter and debris from under those hard-to-reach places like the shrubs have yet to be done. MulchThis is also a great time to remove dead stems in woody plants such as hydrangea, and old leaf litter from perennials and ground covers.

Great garden clean-up will also decrease summer disease and insect pests, and if you remove emerging weeds by hand now, you will reduce time spent later. Mulching the beds with a light dressing of compost or commercial mulch will not only brighten up the appearance of the garden, but will also be a great investment into reducing watering later.

Make your bed!

A little light housekeeping in the garden is nice, but what your mom might love is creating a new planting bed especially for her. If you know there’s an area she’s been longing to cultivate, mark off the area with a garden hose and dig out the existing vegetation. Replace what you dug out with compost or peat moss amended topsoil and get ready to garden!

Feed the kids

If you didn’t fertilize last fall, Mom’s plants may benefit from some fertilizer. The best option is to get a soil test before you fertilize and it’s now very easy to do. Michigan State University Extension provides an easy-to-use soil test kit that can be purchased online from the MSU Extension Bookstore.  

Try to get fertilizer applied for perennials and ground cover beds before the leaf canopy has fully emerged. Don’t apply fertilizer to the top or crown of the plant and shake off particles that stick to wet foliage as it will burn. The soil test analysis will help you avoid over-applying fertilizer and causing perennials to flop over later this summer.

Tune-up time

Cleaning prunersYou could also help Mom tune-up her garden tools. I’m sure there is a pair of pruners out in the shed that need sharpened, oiled or tightened. Hoses always need repairing and irrigation systems need adjusting. Busy moms need all the help they can get.

A little ingenuity may be appreciated as well. How about mounting her hose winder up a little higher so the hose isn’t hanging on the ground? Maybe an automatic timer could be added to the faucet to help turn the water on and off. Hanging baskets are always easier to water with a long-handled wand or just by putting them on a string and pulley. Use your imagination!

Spring break

You got your spring break, now it’s time for Mom to get hers. Take her to the garden center and pick up some of those gorgeous new varieties of annuals and great combo-hanging baskets. For shady containers, try mixing a colorful Rex begonia, New Guinea impatiens and a beautiful, soft-textured fern. For a full sun container, try one of the new velvety soft petunias, sun coleus and your old favorites. Either way, make it a special day for Mom in the garden!

Rex begonia Combination of flowers
Left, Rex begonias. Right, (clockwise) geranium, callibrochoa, coleus and sweet potato vine.

For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening articles, or to find out about smart gardening classes and events, visit and Finneran’s blog. You can contact the MSU Master Gardener Lawn and Garden Hotline at 888-678-3464 with your questions.

All photos: Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

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