Is there a rule of thumb about when I should start my spring cleanup and planting?
While there is no magic date to begin doing your spring cleanup, decisions made early in the season can have a profound impact on the performance of your beds. I generally start whittling away at it as soon as I get a warm dry stretch. This helps dry the bed, so it’s easier and less mucky to work. For me, and with my schedule, this usually starts at the end of March and continues into May.
Prioritize your tasks by first removing old plant material. Here’s why:
Minimize Pest and Diseases
Old, dead plant material could be harboring pests and diseases that slept through the winter in the soil and on the old leaves. A thorough spring cleanup gives you a head start on combating many bugs and diseases. This is especially true when you had a known problem the year before, such as powdery mildew on peonies or an aphid infestation on roses.
Let the Sun Shine In
By clearing out old plant material that currently is covering the crown (top) of your plants, the new shoots that begin to grow will get more light and airflow in the early stages of development. Perennial grasses are a perfect example. You need to trim all your perennial grasses back by the end of April. If you don’t, the grass begins to grow around the outside of the clump and not in the middle because light cannot penetrate the old foliage. You’ll end up with a donut-shaped grass clump — empty in the middle, and full around the outside.
Give your shrubs a trim if you didn’t already do it in the fall. Many shrubs can add 2 – 4 feet of growth per season, so pruning them back helps keep them tidy and full and not invading on its neighbors. Each year, I try to watch how my shrubs grow from the previous years pruning. This helps me see how far I should trim back my shrubs. For instance, I know my Limelight Hydrangea can grow up to 2.5 – 3 feet from the previous year’s pruning, so I know that when I prune my 5-foot plant down to 2 feet, it will regenerate back to that 5-foot mark by the end of the summer. Each plant grows differently, so watch your plants and roughly track their growth.
If You See Them, Pull Them
Now is a great time to get ahead of weeds. Thistle and dandelions are already poking up. Don’t allow them to get established in your flower or veggie beds, pull them as you see them. Minimize how much you disturb the soil. Underneath each layer of soil is dormant weed seeds waiting for the perfect conditions to germinate. In established beds, the less you disturb the soil the better. Adding a light layer of mulch early- to mid-April is also a great way to get ahead of pesky weed seeds getting ready to germinate.
Good for you Soul
Probably the most important part of doing your spring clean up is that it gets you outside working in your garden for the first time in months! You’ll feel reinvigorated and ready to tackle a new gardening season with one less worry on your list.
Now go get dirty!