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Spring Cleaning Your Garden

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Published February 20, 2018

After a long, cold winter it’s finally time to step back into the garden, but “Where to begin?” you might ask. Spring cleaning your garden is an important step for getting your plants off on the right foot. We’re going to go through some steps that should help get your growing year off right.

Clean Up

Once the threat of frost has passed, remove any winter protections you may have installed around shrubs and trees. Afterwards, go around to your plants and gently remove the layer of leaves and general debris that has accumulated around the base throughout the previous year. This step allows your plants to have some breathing room, and prevents pests and disease from taking hold in the new year.

spring debris clearing

Before and after clearing last year’s debris from around the base of a shrub


Clean House

Your next spring cleaning step is to go around to your trees and shrubs and remove any dead branches that fell victim to the winter. Much like the debris from below the plant, dead branches can easily become a den for pests and disease. If you’re unsure whether a branch is dead, try the scratch test (see picture below). Scratch an area of the suspect branch with your fingernail or a tool. If the scratch reveals green, the branch is alive. If the scratch is difficult to do, and reveals brown underneath, the branch is dead. Alternatively, you can try to bend back branches that are less than the size of a pencil. If it snaps, it’s dead. If it bends, it’s alive.

scratch test

A scratch test on a healthy, dormant hydrangea.

Now is also the time to remove any shrubs that died over the winter. If you’re interested in some further reading on this, Click here.


Clean Cut

Use this time to prune back shrubs that bloom on new growth, such as buddleia or crape myrtles. Trim these shrubs down to the ground if you like, they’ll still bloom in spring.

Trim any leftover perennial foliage down to their crowns. Crowns are where the stems and leaves meet the plant’s roots, and they generally reside around an inch below the surface. This will allow for an optimal flush with the return of spring weather.

Trim roses back by 1/3 for more compact, densely foliated growth.

Don’t prune shrubs that bloom on old growth, such as summer blooming hydrangeas. Pruning these in Spring will prevent them from blooming until next year. For a more in-depth look at pruning different types of Hydrangeas from The Spruce, Click Here.


Make your Bed

Now is a good time to turn the top layer of soil in your garden with a spade or a rake. Be gentle to avoid damaging your plants. Turning the soil allows for microorganisms to receive more oxygen, which makes for healthier plants. After this step, adding a layer of compost in your garden can also help to provide plant food for months to come and contribute to the richness of the soil.

Find out what soil pH your plants thrive in and then test the soil beneath them. If it needs to be more acidic, add some elemental sulfur. If it needs to be more alkaline, add some ground limestone. This will ensure your plants are ready to hit the ground running once spring is in full swing.


After Spring Cleaning Your Garden…

Now that your landscape is ready for the new season, watch as your prep work pays off in spades. This the perfect time to turn to more important things…namely, what you’re going to plant this year!

Thanks for reading, and please don’t hesitate to Contact Us if you have any questions. May your spring growing season be fruitful!

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2 comments on “Spring Cleaning Your Garden”

  1. I have a question about the many groups of “Red Hot Pokers” out in my yard that this year were killed back in clumps of dead looking mounds. I feel that I should try to open the clumps, being careful to not simply pull the long leaves away. Hoping that I will find good living plant in under the dead mounds. Is this what I must do to let out new growth so that it will get sunshine ? Hoping that the plant is not all dead !!! Thank you for any help you can share with me.

    1. Hello Brenda! You can cut off any old foliage above the ground from last year, but you shouldn’t need to do anything else beyond that. Those mounds of dead foliage actually protect the inner living plant from the cold. The new growth will be able to force itself through when it’s ready. I don’t know where you’re located, but we had a particularly cold winter this last year. Especially cold winters can often make perennials return surprisingly late. They may just need some time. If you don’t see any signs of life in a couple months, you may want to start investigating beneath the surface for living root systems.