By Charlotte Vorstermans, Master Gardener, SCMG
It seems that spring is finally upon us! We gardeners are eternal optimists and ever ready to get out to our gardens.
Cleaning a garden not only involves the plants but also the garbage that somehow gets into our gardens, plus fallen twigs and tree branches. I always start with those items first as they get in the way of the actual work.
If you have a hosta bed and who doesn’t, try to keep out of it until you see their noses pointing up. In my eagerness to clean up the garden, I always seem to forget where they are and then I crush them. When the leaves unfurl, they are a crumpled mess. However, all is not lost, just cut out the offending leaf and more will follow.
Some shrubby plants with woody stems, like Artemisia, Buddleia and Lavender, to name a few; need to be cut back each spring because they only bloom on new wood. They need to be pruned in spring which encourages the plant to start sending out those new flowering branches. You know when you have to do this as you will see new buds on the lower stem portions or new growth at the base of the plants. Pruning also keeps the plants from looking unsightly and taking up more real estate than was intended.
Some plants keep their leaves all winter, but still need to be cleaned up. For example, Epimediums, Hellebores, Heucheras, Bergenias and bearded iris. If you cut off all the old foliage from Epimediums in early spring, you will be rewarded with the most beautiful stems of nodding flowers. New leaves are formed on these stems. You will still get flowers even if you don’t cut them back, but the show won’t be as spectacular. Hellebores bloom so early, under the snow even, that you won’t even know they are there. But luckily, they have a long bloom period, almost until the end of May so there is plenty of time to enjoy them. Last year’s leaves are now flat on the ground and should be removed. The foliage on Hellebores is reason enough to have them in your garden. With any luck, there will be little baby Hellebores under all those old leaves waiting to be potted up.
If you left your ornamental grasses up all winter, a good thing by the way, you can cut them right down to ground level. There is no need to wait for new growth. They will come back and some are slower than others, so be patient.
For blooming shrubs, do not prune until they have finished blooming otherwise there will be no blooms this year. Annabelle Hydrangeas need a good pruning in the spring if you want a more upright plant. Cut down the woody stems in spring, either down to almost ground level or at various heights, and your plant will be sturdier and the blooms not quite as droopy when it blooms later in the summer. Other hydrangeas have different pruning times, so if in doubt, do not prune until you do some further research.
So, there you have it. A basic primer on getting started on spring cleanup in your garden.
Charlotte Vorstermans, Master Gardener