Thursday, February 5, 2009

What's a Late Winter or Early Spring Cleanup?

So, out there in the winter-wrecked garden where the cold seems endless but maybe the Hellebores are starting to bloom and the Crocus are just pushing themselves up. There's a mess of things that need to be cut back and branches all over and flopped shrubs throughout your garden. You look out the window and wonder what to do. Run away? Hide?

You go out, look around and see that maybe the storms of winter tore apart tree limbs and knocked them into the hearts of your favorite Escallonia, or maybe the wind and heavy snow tilted that tall Camelia, bending it's bud-laden branches low. The Choisya has parted like the seas before Moses, and you don't want them to look like that. Or maybe there's a mess where your Phormiums and Hebes and Fuchsias were.

But not to worry, your garden is still under all that debris.

In estimating an early spring cleanup, I try to think about a few main concerns among other lesser concerns. As always, the usual late winter pruning that needs to happen for the health of the plants, the care of the design is a main consideration. But, first we need to address the winter damage.

Winter damage is more obvious, obviously. The downed limbs are the most visible as well as the toppled shrubs. Some will need staking and some will need to be replaced. But there may also be broken crowns of some shrubs that may have caught too much snow, wind, ice, cars or tree limbs that might not be as easily noticed until later in the season. Check for shrubs that have fallen over.

There are quite a few things that need to get pruned the month of February and early March. But gardeners still need to play that fine line of when to do it. To do some of that pruning too early is to risk the chance of further frost damage, so we need to do some guess-work, cautious predicting of the weather to come. The roses can handle a hard prune, but it's best to wait until after Presidents' day. Even if there's a bit of a frost, for a day or two, no worries. That said, if there is a hard frost for several nights and the day time temperatures stay low, well that new growth might end up looking like parts of a salad tossed in the freezer. But usually (I use that word cautiously) there's no reason to believe that an extended frost will be occurring after the 3rd week of February. Look at me, trying to place reason into the chaos of weather. We have to start somewhere.

Miscanthus and other deciduous grasses can be cut back now. Many decidous shrubs and trees can be done now, but there are many, many exceptions so don't just go tearing out into the garden with a pair of loppers expecting good results.

A good spring cleanup from our garden crew can take the confusion off your shoulders and put it where it belongs, in the gardeners day. In a day we can get that garden ready for your spring and summer vision. Because spring and then summer are sure to come, soon... right?...

Until next time..

Happy gardening..


  1. What a great Blog...Full of excellent advice and in the true voice of the author - a very experienced and long time truly is a fine line we walk right now and 'trying to place reason into the chaos of weather' could not be better stated!! Bravo, and I'll be back!

  2. (Also you crack me up)I too hate when the garden looks like a freezer salad! ;)