Gardners prepare for spring cleaning
Snow cover or white mulch is thankfully melted to let a new season arrive. Daylight hours are longer; the ground is warming and waking up from winter. I have been anticipating cleaning flower beds to allow for growth. It’s time to remove old foliage and stems from perennials, trim shrubs, prune small trees and pull weeds.
First on the priority list is perennials. Hostas, daylilies, mums, sedums, astilbe, etc., need attention. I have best results just using my hands to gather the dead leaves and gently tug to remove. It’s so delightful to see the crown growth just appearing! Usually the stems from last year’s flowering will also twist off. By removing this debris, plants can absorb sunlight and growth begins. The debris acts as an insulator that is invaluable in the fall and winter but inhibits spring growth.
Trimming shrubs is another important chore. Spirea, burning bush, dogwood, clematis, etc., all benefit from early trims! Spirea can be cut to about basketball size. They react happily. Cuts promote new growth and nice shapes. Burning bushes also love to be trimmed and shaped. This is also primetime to remove dead branches and any matted leaves that have nested in the base areas of the shrubbery.
Ornamental grasses should be cut down to 4 to 6 inches high. Wow, am I ready for this task! I truly enjoy and appreciate every one of the waving, glorious grasses in our spaces. They start to deteriorate and lose their strength in late fall and winter. The grass shards break away, blow around and gather in many places. Cutting down will eliminate that endless pick-up duty and allow for new, fresh shards to grow.
Fertilizer can be used now on all of your perennials and shrubs. Fertilize with balanced nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) is recommended such as 12-12-12.
If you have rock gardens, work is done now. Wood mulched areas can have mulch reapplied after fertilizing and weeding is complete. If not done now, be sure you mulch before the summer heat arrives. Mulch is also important to keep soils from quickly drying out and adds a fresh look.
This is an opportune time to divide spring perennials for transplanting and sharing. Hostas, grasses, sedums, succulents, coral bells, astilbe, etc., can easily be dug from existing crowns. In fact, these early divisions will thrive, as if never moved! Thinning and removal makes for healthier existing plants. Grass division is probably the toughest! Gardening friends have shared many different techniques used to get pieces for replanting. Well established, ornamental grass clumps can become very tight, dense and matted. Use a spade, ax or a knife to get new starts after cutting down.
May the labors and joys of waking up your garden spaces never end. Just “Imagine” the wonderful growing season ahead ... spring flowers will be showing off their colors and shapes for your pleasure!
Gerri Lyon is a Master Gardener.