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Checklist for Spring Cleaning in the Garden

Looking for ways to clean up your garden? Here’s a quick checklist for spring cleaning to prepare the garden for the next growing season.

Whether you have a flower or vegetable garden, there are certain things we need to do to prepare the beds in spring.

It’s such an exciting time of year for the gardener too.

With the start of the growing season, comes growth, new experiences, and the greening up in the landscape.

It’s my favorite time of year because I love to see my plants break ground.

What survived the winter.

What didn’t.

Deciding what to do differently.

And all of the planning that goes in between.

There are lots of things gardeners do to clean up and prepare the gardens for spring.

Here’s a checklist to get you started when cleaning up the garden.

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lilac blooms and a garden shed on the happy gardening tour

But First…Spring Cleaning vs Fall Garden Clean Ups

When do you prefer to do your garden clean-ups?

For me, I prefer cleaning up the garden in spring rather than fall.

While the answer is a matter of personal preference, here’s why focus more on spring cleaning in the garden, than fall.

My Early Spring in the Garden Tour
  • I like leaving the perennial seed heads for the birds to eat during the colder months when food is scarce.
  • 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. And for me, it is a thrill to see where the newbies emerge in spring.
  • When seed heads and deceased perennials remain intact until spring they add winter interest. If we cut everything back, gardens look flat and boring throughout winter. When left intact, the snow sits on them and adds winter interest.
After deadheading flowers

When Should I Clean My Garden in Spring?

That first warm spring day is the best day to get started!

That’s the day I go outside, rake out the beds, and start spring cleaning by removing 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.

My Early Spring in the Garden Tour

There are 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.”

My Early Spring in the Garden Tour

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!

rhododendron flowers

How Do You Know What Plants to Clean Up 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.

My Early Spring in the Garden Tour

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.

spring cleaning up in the garden tips

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.

My Early Spring in the Garden Tour

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.

Daffodils at sunset

Not Sure What Plants You Have?

Contact your local garden extension because they can help identify plants.

It’s an easy call to make and so worth it to ensure you get blooms!

spring cleaning in the garden

How Do I Get Rid of Garden Debris After Spring Cleaning?

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 of it) or compost it.

HERE is a great recipe for composting that will improve the health of your garden.

My Early Spring in the Garden tour

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 is weeds.

If I pull weeds, I dispose of them with other garden waste that I am not composting.

roses in my jersey garden


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 definitely do not want!

perennials vs annuals

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.

Early Spring Tulips

I know a few gardeners that re-fluff 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.

Happy gardening with dark horse wiegela, peonies and container gardening

Spring Cleaning Checklist for the Garden.

  • Remove leaves from the beds.
  • Prune shrubs.
  • Pull dead annuals.
  • Remove dead growth from perennials.
  • Pull the weeds.
  • Make clean edges in garden beds.
How to Take Care of Plants While on Vacation

More Spring Gardening Posts

Spring Garden Flowers

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!

Quick Checlist for Spring Cleanup in the Garden

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