Tips for Spring Clean-up

by Gardening Coach Susan Harris

Like gardeners everywhere, I’m mulch-deep in the biggest job in the garden all year – the spring clean-up and cover-up – and like most gardenbloggers, I have my Canon handy to record the deed.

Under Trees and Shrubs

What’s wrong with this picture?

  • The lower limbs of the Deodar cedar are lying on the ground, being thoroughly in the way.  I’ll go out on a limb and say I always remove limbs of shrubs and trees that are lying on the ground.  Makes it possible to garden around them.
  • Dead leaves aren’t exactly my favorite garden feature, so I get rid of most of them (no notions here of perfection, I promise).
  • And look at that English ivy!  It’s the dominant ground cover in the woods for miles around, and keeping it in check is a big part of regular maintenance.  Ivy wins out over the much-less-vigorous periwinkle (Vinca minor) I’m trying to grow in the border, and it’ll climb UP everything it can and make all sorts of trouble as it advances into canopies.

So with all the dead plant matter and troublesome living plant matter out of the picture, it’s possible to see and remove all manner of weeds – especially the  most vigorous vine in these parts – the dreaded porcelain vine.  It’ll take a good shovel to remove some of them but boy, is it worth it!  Because by mid-summer, those vines will be implementing their grand scheme to take over my largest plants – actually, to take over my entire garden – and they WILL win.  I’ve seen more examples of this than I care to remember.

Don’t forget, gardens are never far from becoming an unruly mess, and now is the time to prevent that for this season, by just cleaning up…then mulching.

The Great Mulch-Out

If there’s bare ground exposed after removing weeds, dead leaves and low limbs, it won’t stay bare and weed-free for long without a nice covering of mulch, preferably 2 inches, but 1 will still help a lot.  To recap the often-recited benefits of mulch, it prevents weeds, retains moisture and adds organic matter to the soil.  That organic matter attracts earthworms and other beneficial bugs and microorganisms, and corrects for drainage problems with the soil – both too sandy AND too clayey.   Yep, it’s a miracle.  I like leafmold and pine “fines” best myself but any organic mulch in a natural color will do.

Rudbeckia hirta

Moving Perennial  Seedlings in April

You’d never know that early April is supposed to be mild and wet – the perfect conditions for moving perennials with weak roots, perennials that HATE to be moved – with the heat wave we’re having, as pleasant as it is.  These Black-eyed susans and also the purple coneflowers I’m moving around to fill up a newly enlarged border seed freely – a great feature in plants we love – but have the flimsiest little roots.   Unlike thick or full-rooted daylilies and hostas, they can’t be yanked around and expected to survive without a little coddling.

So the best advice is to wait for a cooler, overcast day – except that yesterday I got the urge, and moved this rudbeckia and maybe 30 more, not stopping til I noticed them all drooping loudly (it seemed – that’s how obvious they are!).  So to pay for my impatience and indiscretion, I’m having to keep them all on life support by watering them throughout the day.  But I promise not to move another thing (including the large Carex I’ve found a new home for) til later this week when the forecast is for rain and cool temperatures.  So, we learn to wait til the weather is our friend, not our enemy. That’s gardening for ya.

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