At the first sign of a thaw, gardeners itch to rush out and start cleaning up. But slow down! Pruning too early and digging in wet ground can actually damage the health of your garden. Instead, follow our five easy spring garden cleanup tips to get your landscape ready for a stellar growing season. Or contact us, and we’ll do your spring garden cleanup for you!
1. Stay off of wet soil
In Indiana, early spring is mud season. But digging in wet soil can damage the underlying soil structure. So put off any transplanting until the soil has dried.
To test soil, take a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball. If it crumbles when you gently poke it, the soil is dry enough to plant. If it sits there in a little lump, it’s still too wet.
When the garden is especially wet, put off any garden chores, including cutting down and raking. Even walking around in mucky soil can compact the beds you’ve worked so hard to improve.
2. Delay cutting down as much as you can
While it’s tempting to take advantage of the first warm days in March to thoroughly cut down and rake out the garden, hold off if you can. Our native bees and other insects are still hibernating, some in hollow stems and others in bare bits of ground. If you haul all those grasses and perennial foliage to the compost heap now, you’ll be removing an entire generation of beneficial insects!
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation says the longer you can wait the better, but definitely hold off until April. Focus instead on pruning woody plants and removing invasives as you wait for the weather to warm.
If you just can’t bear to look at brown stems any longer, cut down spent growth to the fresh green leaves at the bottom (or to the ground in the case of plants that haven’t yet put out new leaves). Leave the debris in small piles in an out-of-the-way spot in the garden. Insects will emerge as the weather warms, and then you can pitch those little brush piles into the compost.
3. Bundle your grasses
We find that the easiest way to cut down grasses is to tie them into a bunch with twine, then cut through their base with a pair of shears. If you are cutting grasses early in the season, the twine lets you set the entire bundle in an inconspicuous location until insects emerge and birds have taken what they want for nests.
4. Don’t mulch now
Mulch acts as an insulating layer on top of soil. If you put a blanket of mulch on top of cold soil, you’ll trap that cold and in turn delay plants from emerging. Mulch applied in early spring is also likely to lose its color quickly.
Instead, we prefer to build soil by adding compost where necessary. We wait until the soil has thoroughly warmed in late April or May before putting down mulch.
If you laid a thick blanket of mulch on the beds in fall, be sure to rake it off. It’s fine to leave a light layer of mulch, but removing most of the heavy layer of winter mulch lets the soil warm more quickly. Chipped leaves you used for winter mulch can go straight to the compost pile.
When you do apply mulch, try to leave a section of the garden soil bare. Even a very small spot can be a boon to ground-dwelling insects.
5. Remove the wrappings from outdoor pots
If you have wrapped your containers (as we do) in insulating bubble wrap and burlap, you can remove those layers. Wait until you’re pretty sure that we’re past hard freeze (that is, the temps aren’t likely to drop below 28 degrees). We lost a pot to cracking one year by removing the wrapping too early.
Once you’re sure freezing temperatures are in the past, you can bring out containers and statuary you stored over the winter, as well as stored birdbaths and garden furniture. That’s the time to hook up the garden hose and rain barrel too.
Spring garden cleanup doesn’t have to be done all at once. Slowing your spring cleanup and timing it to the weather is a terrific way to experience your garden intimately—and to ease into using gardening muscles you haven’t exercised all winter!
Rather someone else do the cutting down and raking out? Contact us now to schedule the Spotts Garden Service crew to do spring garden cleanup for you!