By Susan Albert
Starting a garden off on the right foot never “just happens.” It takes a little work. Leaves and garden debris that collect in the beds during winter can harbor insects and disease-bearing organisms. Removing the debris not only improves the health of your plants but gives the garden a neat and tidy look too.
Here are some tips for cleaning your beds:
Remove leaf litter, weeds and any remaining annuals.
Cut back dead perennial foliage, being careful not to cut new growth. Watch out for snakes under leaf litter—I found that out first hand. I approach all leaves with caution now.
Determine whether any perennials need attention.
If it’s a spring-flowering plant, wait till it has finished blooming before you prune, move or divide it. Most perennials need to be divided every three to five years. Lift the clump, discard old pieces, replant newer sections. Refrain from dividing peonies; they react poorly to it.
In the photo, I removed the old growth from the mums, dug out the small tree stump, moved the daylily and another mum, pruned the Knock Out rose, cut back to the ground a hardy hibiscus and native boneset, and used two pots of ‘Starry Night’ violas to spruce up the bed. That cool-season plant should do well till the heat of summer sets in.
Sweep out the leaves that collected in iris beds. Tall bearded irises want the tops of their corms to bask in the sun. Do not mulch. Do not divide till late summer or early fall.
Trim ornamental grasses, such as Miscanthus, with hedge shears. Cut back to new growth. I leave the trimmings on the ground as mulch. You can cut or mow small grasses such as liriope. The Itea pictured was left alone, as it blooms in late spring.
Prune rosebushes as soon as new growth starts. That’s around March 15 for Zone 6 gardens, sooner for our more Southern friends.
Scratch in a slow-release fertilizer around perennials and shrubs.
Finish with a layer of organic mulch to inhibit weeds and regulate soil temperature. Your plants will thank you for the rejuvenation and new dose of nutrients! (You can postpone this step if you’re waiting to see whether certain plants reseeded.)
After working in the beds I usually check out Lowe’s because typically they are the first garden center in my area to stock plants. One of the first plants I buy is the Picote petunia (shown at the top of the story), which has always been my favorite. I snapped up the only Sunny Knock Out rose in a sea of red and couldn’t resist the colorful orange sedge (Hierba naranja), which only grows to about 2 ft high.