Steps to Clean Up Your Garden for Spring

Part of the You Can Learn Landscaping and Gardening series.
By Ken Brown
April 02, 2005

When Spring arrives do you know what to do to give your plants, shrubs, trees and evergreens the best start possible? How do you maximize the growth potential of your flower garden? What should you do to produce the most blooms and the healthiest plants for the coming summer?

In this article I discuss some of the things you can do in Spring to get your garden and landscape looking its best. I will look at some plants that need trimming and other steps necessary at this time of year.

One of the first steps you should take is to walk around your garden and do a visual inspection of the plants you have. How did the plant survive the winter? Was it eaten by deer or other wild animals? Do you need to replace a plant? Just because a plant has died off all the way to the ground doesn't mean that the plant is dead and needs to be replaced. The fallopia plant dies back to the ground every winter. This is a normal occurrence and it will come back with new shoots.

As you are wandering around your garden pick up any trash and paper that has blown into the yard. Branches that have fallen during the winter storms should be removed, unless you are going for that natural look to your garden. This is a good time to start trimming back plants to prepare them for summer.

Some plants should be completely trimmed back, others you should cut off branches that are shooting in the wrong direction and need some trimming for aesthetic purposes. There is a list at the bottom of this article to help determine which plants need special care.

Early in the spring is a good time to find unwanted weeds from last year that need to be removed. Just pull them up, roots and all. If you are unsure if the plant you are looking at is a weed or not then wait a month or two until you can be certain it is something you should pull.

Finally, you should fluff up last year's mulch and add additional mulch as needed to your garden. An important point to remember is that you should have 2 to 4 inches of mulch on your garden to hold in moisture and heat. To fluff up the mulch, just take a rake and rake it up and then rake it back into the spot it came from. Try to leave space between the mulch, meaning, don't pack it down. Make it look full, like fluffing a pillow.

Before you run off to the landscape store to buy new plants, wait for the soil to warm up. Just because daytime highs reach above 60 degrees for a few days, doesn't mean the soil has warmed to the proper temperature. It still cools at night and any soil heat gains can be lost at night. Sometimes the south facing side of your house is warm enough to plant in, but the north side shaded by the house hasn't warmed enough to place plants in the ground.

If you find a plant you want, go ahead and buy it, but leave it in its pot and protect it from frost and cold until the soil has heated sufficiently to plant it in the ground. My wife will purchase a plant. Place it in the sun during the day and then bring it into the garage overnight. Usually, by June 5th in Northern Illinois, it is warm enough to place plants in the ground with little concern for freezing and root damage.

Butterfly Bush Dies to ground in winter, otherwise can be trimmed to 6 inches from the ground in spring.
Coral Bells Every three years divide root ball in Spring or Fall
Emerald Gold Euonymous This requires little care in spring. You can trim back the runners if you want.
Fallopia Dies to the ground in winter, break off last year's growth in fall or spring.
Heuchera Every three years divide root ball in Spring or Fall
Hosta Hosta's die completely to the ground in winter. No care needed.
Jackman Potentilla Trim in fall or spring, but not after new growth begins in spring. Remove dead branches in spring and you can trim by half.
Rose of Sharon Trim them back in early spring to keep them from becoming stemmy.
Autumn Joy Sedum Trim in fall or early spring. Trim to the ground old growth. After new growth begins cut back to 8 inches for more flowering.

These are the steps for spring clean up in the garden. Trim the plants that need trimming, fluff up the mulch, pick up trash and prepare yourself to enjoy another great spring, summer and fall season of gardening.

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