How awesome has the weather been where you are? Because it has been pretty fantastic here in New Jersey. With the temps warming up, it’s time to get back outside and do some spring garden clean-up to prepare the beds for the growing season.
I started cleaning up garden debris, branches, cutting back perennials, as well as certain flowering trees and shrubs. Have you started yet? I’ve received a few questions about it lately so let’s talk spring garden clean-ups!
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Spring vs Fall Garden Clean-Up
I am often asked why I prefer doing garden clean-ups in the spring rather than the fall. While the answer is a matter of personal preference, I do my clean-ups in the spring for the following reasons:
- I like leaving the perennial seed heads for the birds to eat.
- Leaving dried, dead perennial plant debris up in fall and winter allows plants to reseed themselves in the garden. This means they will drop seed and new plants will grow in other areas of the garden. It is a thrill to see where the newbies emerge in spring.
- Another reason to leave the seed heads and perennials intact until spring is they add winter interest. If I cut everything back, the area would just look flat and boring. When left intact through winter, the snow sits on them and adds interest.
How and When to Do a Spring Garden Clean-Up?
That first warm spring day is the day I go outside, rake out the beds and clean-up the dead garden debris. Some of the debris is loose on the ground. Others I need to cut back to the ground, then rake it out. There is also usually leaves leftover from fall, branches and twigs from trees, as well as annual and perennial plant debris that all needs to be cleaned up.
Since I have a lot of gardens, I break them down into sections so the clean-up does not seem as daunting. I try to tell myself to “just do the front gardens.” But oftentimes, I wind up doing the whole property in a day anyway.
Depending on the size of the task, I’ll either use a wheelbarrow or pop-up garden container to collect the debris. While I love using the wheelbarrow, I prefer using the pop-up garden container because it’s light, collapsible, easy to move around and holds so much!
How Do You Know What Plants to Cut Back?
For starters, any annuals you planted the following year that are completely dried and dead, pull out or cut back. If we had a mild New Jersey winter, I have occasionally seen an annual bounce back but that is rare.
I plant winter pansies in the fall and do not pull these out or cut them back. If you plant pansies in the fall, they should overwinter and bounce back in the spring (depending where you live). You will know if they survived the winter by looking for green foliage, stems or other signs of life. If unsure, I recommend leaving them alone until you know they are completely dead.
Where perennials are concerned, it really depends on the plants you have. Not all perennials should be cut back. The easiest way to do this is to keep the plant tag that comes with every plant or take a picture of that tag with your cell phone and file it in your phone.
When the growing season begins, do some on-line research as to how to prepare that plant for spring. In most cases, it will be obvious because you will see new growth at the base. But in other cases, it will not be as obvious. Therefore, it is wise to double-check before cutting a plant to the ground that should not have been cut.
The same concept applies to flowering trees and shrubs – you need to know what you have to know when and how to prune them. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked why a certain shrub did not bloom. Oftentimes it is because it was pruned at the wrong time. If you cut a plant back that has buds on it, well, you just cut the flower buds off. Therefore, I cannot stress enough how important it is to know what plants you have.
Not Sure What Plants You Have?
Contact your local gardening extenstion because they can help identify what you have. It’s an easy call to make and so worth it to insure you get blooms!
Debris Disposal After Spring Garden Clean-Up
Our municipality has a leaf, twig and branch pick-up program in spring and fall, so I am only going to address the other garden waste from my annuals and perennials.
As a gardener, there are two options of what to do with garden debris: toss it with the rest of the garden debris (ask your local municipality how best to dispose it) or compost it. I compost most if not all of our garden debris because eventually breaks down and produces very good soil, AKA, liquid gold.
The only garden debris I do not put in my compost pile are weeds. If I pull weeds, I dispose them with other garden waste that I am not composting. Why? Because I do not want them to drop seed or germinate in the pile. If it did, I would then spread those weeds back to my garden which I definately do not want!
Mulching After Spring Garden Clean-Up
To mulch or not to mulch…that is the question. I like to mulch yearly because it helps suppress the weeds and makes my garden flowers pop. Since I work so much in the gardens all season long, the mulch washes out or gets dug in to the soil with plantings. Plus, it does break down and enrich the soil.
If there are budgetary concerns, mulching yearly can be quite costly. Paying someone else to do it is astronomically more expensive than buying it in bulk and doing it yourself. I know a few gardeners that refluff their mulch in alternate years instead of purchasing yearly. While I know that works for some, because I work the beds so often, it does not work for me. Therefore, I prefer to mulch yearly.
What Do You Think?
Have you started your spring garden clean-up yet? To me, this is the best time of the year to work in the garden. The temps are seasonable and I’m full of inspiration and energy. I’m so ready to get back out there and love seeing the new growth!
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