Garden Cleanup-Spring Edition

April 8, 2020

Garden Cleanup-Spring Edition

Photo of pruning

Now that our house plants are happily settling into their new pots and fresh soil, it is time to go outside. Spring is an ideal time to spruce up the yard. I’ve listed a few items below to add to your outdoor activities.


  1. Pruning: After the winter months, trees and shrubs may have encountered a beating from the cold winter winds and heavy snow loads. Spring is an ideal time to prune for many reasons.   First, many plant diseases and insects are still inactive. When you prune while these pathogens and pests are still resting, your tree or shrub will have a time to scab over and protect itself so the pathogens cannot infect the plant.

  2. Although it will take yearly maintenance, spring is the time of year to begin shaping your trees and shrubs. Are there broken branches? Are there branches that are crossing over top of each other? Are branches touching any buildings or structures that could cause potential damage?

  3. Using a good, sharp pair of bypass hand pruners, find where the branch is broken and cut slightly above bud on the branch of the tree. Avoid anvil shaped pruners; they will crush tissue and cause damage to the plants, causing the plants to be unable to scab over properly. If the branches are crossing each other, find the branch that is growing in the ideal direction. For example, if one branch is growing upwards and will not interfere with other areas of growth keep it. If a branch is growing horizontally and you think it will become problematic-will it hit me while I’m mowing the grass-then remove it back to the base of the branch at the trunk, slightly above the wrinkly area at the bottom of the branch before it attaches to the trunk. This wrinkly area is where the scar from pruning will begin healing over the wound.

  4. If you are pruning a flowering tree or shrub, keep in mind when the plant flowers. Spring? Summer? Fall? This is important because you do not want to cut off your flower buds on accident. Trees and shrubs can flower on old wood, new wood, or both. Usually spring blooming plants flower on old wood, which is wood it grew last year. Summer and fall blooming plants generally flower on new wood, meaning wood it grew this growing season. For plants like forsythia, lilacs and rhododendrons, you want to prune those plants AFTER they bloom. For plants such as spirea and hydrangeas, you can prune in the spring or fall, since they bloom on new wood.   

  5. Dead leaves and debris: Tackling dead leaves and other plant debris that is in your flower beds is a good idea to do as part of your spring clean-up. Old leaves and branches are great places for diseases and insects to hide out, just waiting for your plants to begin growing so they can re-infest at a moment’s notice. Fungus, in particular, like to use the previous year’s plant matter as their winter home...which is why your plants with powdery mildew get it year after year. Compost those materials away from your garden and do not burn those leaves.  Burning can cause the pathogens to get into the air, giving them a free ride back to your garden. 

  6. Mulch: Hardwood, pine, cocoa beans, newspaper, plastic, shredded, nuggets, you name it, mulch comes in a variety of forms. Regardless of the material the mulch is made of, mulch is beneficial to the garden in many ways. Mulch helps maintain a more consistent soil temperature. Mulch also decreases the evaporation rate of the much needed water in your garden. When you mulch, a base layer of 2-3" of mulch is ideal. This amount will inhibit the amount of sunlight reaching the soil surface, which, in turn, inhibits the germination of many weed seeds. 

  7. When mulching trees, avoid the “volcano mulch” technique. “Volcano mulch” implies mulch being placed up the trunk of a tree, appearing like the shape of a volcano. Volcano mulching keep moisture close to a tree trunk. Excess moisture at the base of the trunk leads to rot and decay. 

  8. Weed prevention: We previously discussed mulch as a great weed barrier. If you want to give weeds a good one-two punch, consider using a pre-emergent herbicide. Pre-emergent herbicides work by inhibiting the germinating of weed seeds. In order or pre-emergent herbicides to be effective, they need to be applied BEFORE seeds germinate. And they are only effective on seeds, not actively growing weeds. A wise Dutchman once told me that when the forsythia are in bloom, the soil is warm enough for weeds to start germinating. That is the time to apply your pre-emergent herbicides Let’s look at thistles for example. A pre-emergent herbicide will kill thistle seeds that have not sprouted. It will not kill the roots of resting thistle plants. Unfortunately, you will have to get out the spade and get down on your hands and knees for those bad boys. 

  9. If you plan to plant vegetable or flower seeds in an area where you have applied pre-emergent herbicides, don’t. A seed is a seed to a pre-emergent herbicides, and they do not differentiate. 


Now that you have your new garden work list, time to get outside and get to work.