Melinda's Gardening How-To: Spring Clean Up

Get your garden in shape for the upcoming growing season.

It’s time for a bit of spring-cleaning. No, I’m not talking about organizing closets and emptying the garage, but rather getting the garden in shape for the upcoming growing season. 

Start with a walk through the landscape. Make a note of pruning, mulch removal, winter repair and other spring tasks that can be completed now. Investing time early in the season means you’ll have a healthier beautiful garden and more time to relax and enjoy it throughout the summer.

Perennials
• Remove winter protection once temperatures begin hovering above freezing for about a week or new growth appears. Leaving plants covered too long results in poor spindly growth and increases the risk of disease.

• Check for signs of frost heaving. Un-mulched perennials can be pushed out of the ground after a winter of fluctuating freezing and thawing soil. Replant any perennials or bulbs that were pushed out of the soil.

• Cut back perennials and sub-shrubs like Russian sage and butterfly bushes with hand pruners. Break out the loppers for those larger and harder to reach stems. Use an electric hedge shear or weed whip with a rigid plastic blade for mass plantings of perennials and grasses. Compost all pest- and herbicide-free materials.

• Prune Russian sage and butterfly bush back to 4 to 6 inches above the soil. Use a lopper or hand pruners to cut stems above an outward facing bud.

• Mark the location of late emerging perennials like butterfly weed and hardy hibiscus. This will prevent you from accidently weeding them out of the garden.

• Do minimal cultivation around perennials and annuals that self-seed. Wait for seedlings to appear then thin, transplant and weed as needed.

• Fertilize new plantings of hardy bulbs that were not fertilized in fall or to increase vigor on older plantings. For best results, apply a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer to the soil surface as the bulbs begin to sprout.

Lawns
• Avoid snow mold fungal disease with a bit of early season raking. Use a leaf rake to fluff and dry the grass reducing the risk of snow mold. Never work on frozen or waterlogged soils.

• Repair vole damage. Tamp down runways that appear in the lawn. This is often enough to help the grass recover. Make note and plan on reseeding areas severely damaged by voles and other wildlife.

Trees and Shrubs
• Transplant trees and shrubs that need to be relocated. Start digging as soon as the soil can be worked and try to get plants into their new location before growth begins.

• Remove damaged or hazardous branches as soon as they are found. Consider hiring a certified arborist for larger jobs. They have the equipment and training to do the job safely. Visit www.treesaregood.com to find a certified arborist near you.

• Prune summer and fall blooming shrubs like potentilla, summer blooming spireas and Annabelle-type hydrangeas now until growth begins. Reduce floppy growth by pruning potentilla and summer blooming spireas back halfway. Cut half of these stems back to ground level. Annabelle hydrangeas can be cut back to 12 to 15 inches and half of these stems to ground level. The older stems help support the new growth. Late winter/early spring pruning will not interfere with summer flowering and allows the plants to recover quickly.

• Check trees and shrubs for signs of insects and disease.
   o Remove cankers, sunken or discolored areas, found on stems. Disinfect tools between cuts with a one-part bleach and nine-parts water solution or 70% alcohol.
   o Examine plums, cherries and other stone fruits for black knot fungal disease. Prune out the old black knots (black lumpy growths) and the new (swollen stems) less visible knots.           Make cuts 6-8 inches below the knots disinfecting pruners between each cut to avoid spreading the disease. Complete by April 1st to prevent the release of spores and reduce             future infections.
   o Check stems, branches and tree trunks for egg masses or plant pests. Remove and destroy any that are found.
• Tent caterpillar egg masses look like a glob of mud on stems.
• Gypsy moths are hairy masses found on the trunks of trees. Wear gloves as some people are allergic to these hairs.

Plan Ahead
• Take the soil test anytime the ground is not frozen. Early season testing provides results before you start amending garden soil and fertilizing your lawn. You’ll know how much and what type of fertilizer you need for the type of plants you are growing. Visit http://extension.illinois.edu/soiltest/ for a list of soil testing labs.

 Make notes on areas that need new planting beds or renovation of existing gardens. Create a list and timeframe to complete the task. You can begin marking the beds and preparing the soil as soon the soil can be worked.

 

 Written by gardening expert, Melinda Myers. Melinda Myers is a nationally recognized gardening expert with more than 30 years of horticulture experience. She is a wealth of knowledge and we are pleased to share Melinda’s Gardening How-To with you!