The sun was shining today with temperatures in the 50’s. It’s not quite Spring, but it soon will be. In honor of March 1st and those daffodil bulbs that have been trying to come for weeks now, I thought I would give a few clean up tips for your spring garden. I would begin most clean up at the end of March or early April, depending on how garden deprived you are.
1. Mulch…its not for everybody. While shrubs and trees benefit from mulching to help keep moisture on the roots, perennials, annuals, and groundcover may not grow as well heaped with mulch. Some perennials can have a hard time emerging in the Spring. If you notice them struggling, try to remove some mulch right around the base to aid them. Groundcover and annual flowers will not fill out as well with mulch surrounding them. Using a compost around groundcover and perennials is a better alternative to give nutrients. However, weed suppression is best with mulch, so I will usually mulch perennials, but with only 1″ of mulch instead of the typical 2-3″. Remember mulching your beds in not necessary on a yearly basis. Raking the beds to “fluff” up the mulch can make them look clean and allow the darker mulch underneath to surface.
2. Who wants a haircut? Ornamental grasses need a trim in March. It is one of the more time sensitive clean up items on the list. It won’t hurt them to wait, just make your life more difficult. The goal is to cut the grasses 4-6″ off the ground so that the new growth isn’t peppered with dead grass stalks. It will be a lot easier to trim back without having to work around new blades. All other perennials can be trimmed back at this point, if it wasn’t already done in the Fall. It really doesn’t matter which time of year the perennials are trimmed. Some people like to keep them up for winter interest or as a winter food source for animals. Sometimes leaving the dead plants up for the winter can help shelter the roots against the winter cold.
3. Edging in on perfection. Adding an edge with a spade to the beds in the spring puts a finishing touch on the clean up. If you find your bed lines get bigger every year, which is almost inevitable, use grass seed and a blanket along the edge to scale it back, every 5 years or so. A manual edge tool rather than a shovel will work best for novice edgers. I don’t recommend plastic edging around beds. They may help for a year or two, but they are widely unsuccessful in keeping the lawn from growing back into the beds and eventually heave out of the ground, get run over and ripped to shreds by the lawn mower, and generally don’t allow you to make as nice of an edge as simply doing it by hand a few times a year.
4. No leaves, no flowers? Not a problem. A spring cleanup can provide a perfect time for minor and not so minor pruning. Pruning in late February or March before a shrub or tree begins to flower or come into leaf provides some great advantages. It is easier to see which branches are not contributing to the overall look of the plant and easier to see how to have a balanced pruning job in the end. Also, certain shrubs (ask me for specifics) can benefit from “rejuvenation pruning”. This means to cut back severely, to promote a lot of new growth. A good example is an arrowwood viburnum. Sometimes these plants can over escape a desired size and can be “hacked” back to a few feet off the ground to allow new growth to grow back in. Early spring is a great time to do this because the cut marks will be hidden by the new growth and by the summer it won’t even look like it was pruned. Doing the same thing in the summer will be noticeable during the rest of the season.
5. Inventive Inventory. The spring clean up is a great time to check on the status of missing plants, any winter damage by burrowing critters, chewed stems or rubbed bark by deer and rabbits. If you are an avid gardener, you can get creative with a garden journal to catalog, doodle and dream up your next plan. Maybe its time to revamp an area that has gotten over grown or lost its cohesiveness with too many onsie and twosie perennial combinations. Lots of homeowners lose their steam for outside projects by the 4th of July. Get started early to get on your landscapers’ to do list!