Notes on Spring Clean Up

Just because there are patches of snow on the ground does not mean it is too early for spring clean up. Quite the contrary, since the ground in early spring tends to be either 1) frozen; or 2) a muddy mire. Of the two, frozen is better.

Not too early for spring clean up.
Not too early for spring clean up.

Where possible I like to pull the dead stalks by hand.ย This can be easier than using a cutting tool. Sure, it looks a bit ragged, but I don’t mind that so much. And as the plants grow in that raggedy look gets covered in green.

My favorite plant for spring clean up is the Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum). The stalks are up to 10 feet tall, and they make a very satisfying CRACK when you pull them from the crown. When they make that noise I want to shout “TIMBER!” Either that, or: “AND ANOTHER HOME RUN BY ERNIE BANKS!” But I don’t, because the neighbors might not understand.

spring clean up 3 15
A pile of Cup Plant stalks.

Milkweeds (Asclepias), on the other hand, tend to have softer stems that won’t break cleanly and need a cutting tool. Nepeta stems also do not pull out easily. I grab them by the handful and cut them with a secatur. I have a lot of Nepeta, and when I cut them back in the spring it feels like I’m giving a haircut to a mastodon.

Spring clean up in the garden is a time of agony (ouch!) and ecstasy. Ecstasy because, as was the case this past weekend, I am OUTSIDE, enjoying SUNSHINE and MILD TEMPERATURES! It makes me feel like I have just been brought back from a semi-comatose state and have returned again to the Land of the Living.

Either a zombie or who put in too many hours in the garden last weekend.
Either a zombie or someone who put in too many hours in the garden last weekend.

The agony, on the other hand, comes from the intensive use of joints and muscles (mainly those involved in bending and kneeling) that have been taking it easy for the past few months. The worst of it, for me, is in the knees and thighs. And so in the early weeks of spring I can often be seen staggering around on stiff legs like a television zombie. Also, getting in and out of chairs can involve a lot of groaning. Certain persons (who lack a basic sense of compassion) have criticized this groaning as excessively noisy.

I will say that I have a gardening bench and kneeler that does help to reduce the overall amount of agony.

Pulling Nepeta with the help of my garden bench/kneeler.
Pulling Nepeta with the help of my garden bench/kneeler.

Spring clean up provides a reintroduction to the neighborhood. There are a lot of people I only see when they pass by as I’m working in the front garden. This is particularly true of people with dogs and/or small children. Just this past weekend I met a young couple with two little girls, ages six and four. They have lived down the street for three years and yet this is the first time I’ve met them.

The younger girl was riding a tricycle with a little basket holding a doll. I asked if she was giving her doll a ride and she pointed out to me that it wasn’t a doll but a baby. What’s more, she explained that she was carrying other important cargo in her basket, including a stick and a key chain.

I’m linking this post to Beth’s Lessons Learned meme at Plant Postings, as well as Donna’s Seasonal Celebrations at Garden’s Eye View.

How do you feel about spring clean up – is it a pleasure or just a chore?

69 Comments on “Notes on Spring Clean Up”

  1. Oh definitely a pleasure. Just getting outdoors and moving around, discovering little shoots under the debris and chatting to passing neighbours makes it more of a celebration than work. May sound odd to some people I know!

  2. Watch your back Jason, you only have one! Knees are my problem so I use a kneeler like yours. A sunny day makes working on the spring clean up a positive experience, I have more to do as the warmer (slightly) weather means there are some new season’s weeds that need removing too!

  3. At the beginning of the day I think of the spring chores as a good thing. Getting reaquainted with an old plant friends. You get to see what they have been up to the past months. There are some sad moments when you realize some might not return for the summer season. Then there are those that have brought more of the family back to move in and take the place of others. You help them get organized, cleaned up, moved to new locations. The only down side is the creaky joints, sore hands etc.

  4. Oh yes, only a gardener would understand “the agony and the ecstasy” you so aptly describe. Now you have me even more excited to get back to the Midwest. I actually LOVE spring garden clean-up. Crazy, I guess. I’m not a big fan of autumn clean-up. It seems better to leave the standing debris for the birds and wildlife. Plus, I’m lazy as the days get shorter. But in the springtime … bring it on! How fun that you met some new neighbors, too. Thanks for joining in the memes!

  5. VERY SORE TODAY-lol:-) Wow, had no idea how out of shape one can get with garden muscles!!! Best part is the “chatting” that goes on with the neighbors. If I work in my front yard, I better plant an extra two hours work for I always end up chatting to folks walking by or next door , back door neighbors! Great post:-)

  6. Oh I love this Jason….it is a pleasure when I start out with spring cleaning, but if it is too wet it becomes a chore by the end…..and oh I feel those aches in my knees and thighs too. I had to laugh several times and especially when i saw the bench. I have that same bench/kneeler. Currently it is in my basement being utilized as a chair for my seed starting. Soon I hope it will be moved outside again. Thanks for joining in again for Seasonal Celebrations….your post brought a much needed smile to my face!

  7. Hah! I have that same padded kneeler/sitter and do a lot of the same groaning this time of year. I’m still in the middle of spring cleanup. It is pleasureable, but I always feel like it’s getting away from me, and I can’t keep up.

  8. I am feeling a bit of your pain. I just cleared out my new veggie garden. I am so excited I barely noticed that I was walking like a zombie. And I was too proud to let everyone around me know that I was hurting — well I kept it to a minimum of say once or twice per hour.

    How nice you got to meet your neighbours. Love the story of the Baby, Stick and Keychain. There’s probably a Neil Gaimon-esque story in that mix somewhere. And why do big people only go for a walk when accompanied by dogs and children? One of the great mysteries I guess.

  9. This time of year, I start the gardening day cutting and pulling things back. Once that creakiness gets to be too much I just sit down and switch to weeding, scooting around in an entirely inelegant fashion. By day’s end, I am one muddy, happy mess…ready for a long soak in a hot tub. Simple joys.

  10. I’m itching to get started in our little garden this spring. As the snow melts and becomes icy and heavy, I’ve been out to knock it off more delicate shrubs and checked for broken branches. I think I need one of those padded seats this year. I still work on my knees or bend to the ground. Not good.

  11. Love that little girls explanation of her basket things! And how true that we reconnect with the neighborhood when we spend time in the garden! As for the zombie I hear ya! I was lifting pots that I should not have been lifting! But clean up gets me so pumped about my space! Happy gardening Jason!! Here is to a great season! Nicole

  12. This had me laughing! I fully sympathise with the knee and thigh pain, and the effort required to get in and out of chairs afterwards…..and the groaning….and those who lack compassion re the torture we suffer!!!! Your zombie description was so funny….and so true!
    I’m so pleased you got outdoors at last, and I love your bench, I must look out for one of those.
    I did enjoy hearing about the little girl. How true re seeing the neighbours in the better weather as well, I chat to folk when I’m in the garden, it makes a community stronger when we all know each other, but the winter does stifle all

  13. Amusing post thanks. I love to be able to get on with a Spring clean outdoors. I feel so much better when i have been out in the air, raking, weeding, digging, mulching all great exercise after a sluggish Winter.So true about seeing people too, hardly see a soul during the Winter and even if you do nobody wants to hang around to exchange pleasantries. Yep the Spring is welcome round me.

  14. It is pure pleasure. This post cracks me up. I have yet to cut back my nepeta but will do it this week with a mastodon in mind. I left all my plant debris in the garden to blow around and make a mess. All the easier for the birds to find little bits to make a nest. it felt great to break in my new knee pads. I did accidentally yank up one of my favorite plants. But it’s a tough soul so I’m hoping my quick shove back in the ground was enough to save it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. It is always a pleasure, and I have the same sore legs afterwards, But it is still a nice feeling.
    Some people just donยดt understand the need to express one self after a hard day in the garden ๐Ÿ™‚ I also enjoy talking to people walking by, when I am in my front garden.

  16. You look so happy Jason, lovely photo of you. I clear up in late February early March but really dislike that gap of four weeks before plants start to shoot again. Do you ever have plants go “missing” from your front garden?

  17. You look very content there Jason – happy as a pig in the proverbial! Doesn’t it feel great to get out there and do a bit. Despite the fact we are all often a bit achy at this time of the year, as they say, No Pain, No Gain ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve a few wee corners that I need to tackle yet and hope to get onto them at the weekend.
    Happy Spring Clean Up Jason.

  18. There’s nothing like that first day of getting out in the garden and finally starting some spring clean-up, especially on the gorgeous days we had earlier this week! I have a garden bench like yours, but I find for most cutting back, I have to get down on my knees, which means some very achy joints for a few days. Love your enthusiasm about cutting back the cup plants–ah, Wrigley Field just won’t be the same without Ernie this year!

  19. The lack of compassion at our house is also disturbing.
    I was out there yesterday with a heavy coat on clipping back hellebores and uncovering snowdrops. Even if I have to rake snow along with old stems tomorrow I’m going to get something done outside. I love it! (for the first few weeks at least, until the lawn needs mowing)

  20. Pingback: Seasonal Celebrations Revealed-March 2015 | Gardens Eye View

  21. Spring cleanup is both a pleasure and a chore – a pleasure to be out again in the garden, with the anticipation of all to come; a chore because it is a lot of tough physical work. Like you, one of the great pleasures of being out in my garden is meeting the people who pass.

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