Just stop freaking out about the pandemic, OK? I mean, you should follow the guidelines of the CDC or some other trustworthy experts. But beyond that, freaking out does not help. One good thing about being isolated at home is that we can spend more time in our gardens, right? So let’s talk about spring garden cleanup.
First step in cleaning up for me is whacking down all the perennial plants still standing.
Here’s what the Sidewalk Border looks like post-whacking.
My favorite whacking tool is a kind of garden scythe that looks like a cross between a barracuda and a golf club. Here it is leaning against some tomato cages. For this purpose, it’s way easier to use than garden shears. Also, swinging it around is fun and cathartic. Just make sure no one is standing nearby.
After using the garden scythe, I neaten things up using my electric weed whacker.
Once you’ve cut down all the standing plants, you have to figure out what to do with all those dead stems and so on. Approaches to this problem are on a continuum that ranges from letting everything lie where it fell to picking up every scrap of plant matter. Over the years, I have tried both extremes.
These days I follow a middle path. I remove the heavy stems like Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). Then I remove enough of the other stuff so that the edges of each bed looks reasonably sharp. Everything else remains. Still looks a bit messy but eventually everything is hidden by green growth.
As for the stuff that gets removed, it gets dumped behind the Siberian Elm in the Thicket Corner bed, where it is pretty much hidden.
But what about leaves, you ask? That depends. The Parkway and Lamppost Beds tend to get covered in thick, heavy layers of dead foliage. For these beds, I like to rake off most of the leaves, then mulch them with my fabulous electric leaf mulcher, which I write about here. The leaf mulch is then reapplied to the beds. Leaves on the lawn are also shredded.
Everywhere else, in all the other beds and borders, the leaves are allowed to decompose wherever they find themselves.
The standard expectation for gardens is that they should be excessively neat. One reason I can’t get along with landscapers is that they are trying to meet that standard. They cannot understand a client who wants his garden moderately messy.
I’m definitely happy that I went back to doing spring cleanup myself. I saved money, got everything done early, and I took care of the garden the way I wanted.
How is spring cleanup coming along in your garden?
Goodness! Everyone writes about ‘that’ today! I haven’t yet, and will avoid it as long as it is not relevant. I can not go to work at my primary job, so, like you, get to catch up on some gardening chores.
I’ve done some of it. The leaves all stay where they fell, or in the beds where I dumped them in raking up the non-garden parts of the yard. No leaf that falls in my yard and doesn’t get blown away leaves my yard. I used clippers to cut down last year’s stalks, but I don’t have nearly as much territory to clean up as you do. Crocus, daffodils and tulips have sprung up in all the beds where they live. Despite the grimness of the pandemic, it’s an exciting time of year.
It is embarrassing how minimal my garden space is relative to what I tend to at work. While I work in many acres, I can not even tend to my own small garden. I will take advantage of the next several days off.
I agree. And the flowers are a good distraction from the grimness.
I would catch up more if it would stop raining already.
Half my garden is nice and tidy, it gets done ready for the snowdrops, the other half has been flooded for weeks with all our rain, it will have to dry out a lot before i can work on it. Now that all the over 70s in the UK have been asked to self isolate for 3 months! I can see that every weed will be removed from the garden and no dust will survive in my house!! I’m not looking forward to not talking to anyone for that length of time, will just have to see how it goes.
Good grief. Are there any exceptions being made for those who still work? I’m 73, own my own business, and continue to work every day. If I don’t work, I don’t eat. Tell me to self-isolate for three months, and I’ll die of starvation rather than of the Corona virus. Of course, I work on boats, so I’m more isolated at work than I am otherwise. No one’s out on the docks with me but the gulls and pelicans, and an occasional passerby!
Around here they haven’t ordered businesses closed other than bars and restaurants (except for takeout). Schools and some other public facilities are pretty much closed. It’s pretty tough on people in the restaurant business, but folks who are laid off are eligible for unemployment insurance.
Three months? Oh my goodness, you are going to need deep inner strength to do that. I’m trying to wrap my mind around three weeks. I’ll be hoping things improve sooner than they are predicting so that this time frame can be reduced for you. Take care.
Surely you can still talk to people. There’s always the phone. We’re planning on a “dinner” via skype with friends tomorrow night.
Hello Jason, that modern garden scythe thing looks neat. For making the borders look neat without having to pick up every last scrap of material, I just dump a few inches of mulch over the top and all of a sudden it looks like a beautiful, pristine, clean new border, for a couple of weeks, anyway.
That’s a clever approach, though in most of my beds I’m trying to keep the soil relatively lean – it is already too rich for some of the wildflowers I grow.
I’ll do spring clean-up as soon as it feels like spring. Cold rainy days don’t work for me and my sinuses. You keep at it though. Looks good.
Thanks. I always get antsy to get started early.
Your post is timely! Those of us with gardens are fortunate to be able to get outdoors and do spring clean-up. I’ve also got seedlings started indoors and am nurturing them like babies!
I think next week I’ll start my seeds indoors.
My clean up is hit and miss this year. It has been so rainy. I have got things about as cleaned up as they will get though. The big stalks are gone. I have mulched the remaining leaves with the mower. So now I await warmer drier weather to do any more.
It’s been rainy around here the last few days also, so I haven’t done much outside for a while. My next big task is to put up the new trellises for the clematis. And I have to start my indoor seeds.
Great tips! You chop up the leaves and then immediately use them as mulch on your bed? Still a little frosty in Maine, and although I’ve picked up sticks and pine cones, I haven’t started on the beds yet. Your gardens are always utterly beautiful so your “messy” approach really seems to work like a charm. Stay safe, be well.
Same to you, Laurie.
I actually enjoyed seeing the photos of your quite tidy garden-in-waiting. Nice memories of very early spring in the midwest!
You gotta love those seasons.
So cool to see all your beds without plants, because I know how they look when Jason and Ma Nature have done magic with them! My garden cleanup is progressing nicely. I always start with the beds that have an abundance of early spring bulbs, followed by all the rest. I then add compost atop the beds in one area (3 “areas”, so compost every third year). My back is tired but my gardening heart is happy!
The compost every third year sounds like a good system. My back is complaining also, but I tell it to be quiet.
It’s still a little cold and wet here to do much except pick up sticks, but I’m still looking at eye candy in the catalogs. Question – when do you set your tulip pots out? Does it depend on date, temperature? I have two but I’m not sure when I should get them out of the barn.
I didn’t plant any tulips in pots this year, but when I do I set them out after the ground has been thawed for a few days – or if I see the tulips emerging. They can tolerate quite a bit of cold.
This is very good advice and as soon as my cold is finally over, I’m going out there. I’ve wondered if I couldn’t get by with leaving the leaves, but they do form a pretty heavy mat. Maybe I can get that leaf mulcher for my birthday! I like the idea of leaving the lighter stems on the ground after whacking them down. Great for overwintering insects.
Exactly. I recommend the leaf mulcher!
I too have one of those vacuum shredder machines which I like. I also have one of the barracuda scythes/golf club tools. You can work on your golf swing or pretend you are Tiger Woods teeing off at the 18th hole. Being a procrastinator and a volunteer naturalist I wait till it is warmer before cutting down hollow stems and raking up a lot of leaves because they are hibernaculums for overwintering insects and pollinators and their eggs and larvae. At least that’s what I tell myself. I also like my gardens a little messy. Nature is messy, that’s why she is so successful. The “Golden mean” has worked for me in many areas of life.
If only I played golf, this would be a good chance to practice my swing. Maybe it’s time to take it up.
We have 760 acres where I work so spring cleanup takes longer and is a bit different.
I’d say so!
My cleanup is progressing nicely. When the calendar rolled over to March it was like a switch flipped on the weather. Two weeks warm, dry weather melted all the piles of snow. I would say I’m 85% complete on the cleanup. Which is a good thing, because below average temps and rain/snow are forecast to return on Thursday. I have got to get me a garden scythe before next year’s cleanup! Where did you find it?
Ace hardware. https://www.acehardware.com/departments/lawn-and-garden/gardening-tools/pruning-tools/70191?x429=true&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&gclid=Cj0KCQjw09HzBRDrARIsAG60GP-37dHc3qU7sgq3cGmNAvNhNwHrzamTjBUFF61d4zNXOBr1ELfp0TcaAtJQEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds
Awesome. Thank you!
I’m still working on mine and I’ve collected enough green waste already to keep the green bin full for the fortnightly collections til Christmas! And I’m not done yet. You look like you’ve accomplished heaps 🙂
I feel pretty good about getting ahead of the curve this year.
We’ve been away for a couple of weeks and the pumpkin vine has taken over the garden! So we definitely need to have a big autumn clean-up. However I’ll be depending on you for a lovely spring and summer garden to keep our spirits up as we transition into winter.
Pumpkins have a tendency to do that, I hear.
Yes, you are 100% right, panic doesn’t help at all. Keep Calm and Garden On!
Amazing to my Med. Climate eyes how everything in your borders goes to sleep for the winter! So different from here! I’m not fanatically tidy myself–fallen leaves decompose so nicely–why remove them? Now we have California state working to eliminate green waste from landfills (methane) so I’m composting more, and mulching with clippings where I can.
Winter clean up long finished–things here already growing!
Not sure how I would react to a year-round growing climate. It sounds appealing, but then I like the respite provided by a real winter,
Looks good! I agree, slightly messy is definitely better than pristine… in my case mainly because I am a bit lazy about cleaning up and also jt only needs one windy night to make it all look messy again! I managed to get my grasses cut down just in time (new growth already showing) and buddleia pruned a few days ago.
Most of my grasses are warm season so they don’t start growing in until later in the year. Still, I like to get them out of the way, especially as they tend to flop.
I get what you are saying .. EVERYTHING you are saying ! LOL
I start tomorrow if all goes well … those first days spent cleaning up can be strenuous to say the least.
So … I am hoping all of that yoga I have been doing will make it much easier on my muscles .. but even with the threat of pain .. I can’t wait to start the process and see what is peeking underneath the dead leaves .. little treasures to be discovered always makes me excited 😉
It is exciting to see all those signs of new life, isn’t it?
The day my garden meets the “landscaper standard” is the day hell freezes over. It simply won’t happen! Interesting tool, that barracuda thing – I’ve never seen one of those before. Other than that, I’m with you on the pandemic. I take it deadly seriously, but quite enjoy having time to spend outside in the garden. Took out a shrub that was impeding our driveway today. My husband is very happy!
Taking out shrubs can be very satisifying.
Yes! I just took a big one out the other day. Makes a huge difference!
Just doing my spring clean up one bed at a time, 30 beds, I’m not crazy, I am retired! Lots to do. I more or less do what you do but I use clippers. Loving that tool of yours, where did you get it? I am a messy gardener and in 2 months you can’t see the ground. Also the chickens help with me! Ground is still frozen some mornings so can take my time and enjoy it, I am in N.S. Canada. Love your blog, thanks for sharing.
The garden scythe, which is also called a grass shear, I ordered from Ace Hardware. Our family took two trips to Nova Scotia and loved it: Halifax, Cape Breton, Bay of Fundy, Cheticamp. Did a mix of camping and staying at motels. Only area we missed completely was the southern portion. Would love to go back.
Having a garden is an absolute blessing! Love your spring clean-up, I use as much as possible too and use all the leaves from the numerable trees we have.xxx
The leaves are a great resource.