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If you did a great job bedding down your plants for winter, you may not have too much work to do this spring. But if you were a little too busy last fall to do much cleaning up, you will find that you have some work to do. Take advantage of the cool working weather to prepare your gardens so that when spring hits in full-force, you are ready to plant and enjoy.
Cut back spent perennials
One of the first things you will want to do for a good spring clean-up is to clean out your garden beds. If you have any annuals left in your beds that are shriveled and dead, rake them up and dispose of them. Better yet, compost them to use in the future as mulch.
Now is the time to trim perennials and grasses that were not cut back in the fall. You don't want to have this year's plants emerging amongst brown and shriveled stalks. Cut back these dead perennials all the way to the ground.
Some spring-flowering perennials or woody perennials such as hydrangeas don't need to be cut back or may require only selective pruning of browned leaves. The best way to find out what you should and should not cut back is to do your research. If you have Internet access, take advantage of that resource. If you’re stumped by a certain plant, give us a call.
Unwrap trees and shrubs
If you wrapped or tied any tender trees and shrubs, these should now be unwrapped. Warm temperatures and poor air circulation can cause a fungus which will harm the plant, so untie and unwrap all those protected trees and shrubs.
Trim trees and shrubs
Spring is a time to prune many of the deciduous trees and shrubs. They should be pruned before they break out into leaf and before the sap is running. (Maple, Birch and Walnut trees should be pruned in January or mid-August when the sap is not running.).
Trees are pruned to keep plants healthy and strong, maintain a nice uniform shape, and aid in the production of fruit and flowers. Prune only trees that are overgrown and have lost ornamental value. Pruning trees that don't need rejuvenation is an entirely different process and should be done after blooming.
Early blooming flowering shrubs such as Lilacs, Forsythia, Purple-Leaf Sand Cherry and the Double Flowering Cherry are pruned after they have finished blooming. This is because they have set this year’s flowers last summer and so if you were to prune them now you would be removing many of the flowers. All the other flowering shrubs are pruned now. You want to prune out the old flowers and shear them into a nice uniform shape.
If any of your plants had leaf spot, or any other garden pest or disease, this will likely be carried over in mulch that was left on beds from last season. In addition, if leaves from elsewhere have blown in and settled in your garden beds over the winter, you may have spores or cocoons hiding in your garden.
In theory, you should rake up the winter mulch and dispose of it or compost it (the high temperatures of composting will kill off any diseases). Since this can be tough, time consuming work, you may choose to do it just in certain sensitive areas, like around your roses if they were diseased last season.
Divide and transplant
This is also a good time of year to do any dividing of perennials. It can be done as soon as you can get a shovel in the ground. This is also true for any tree or shrub that you may want to transplant. The best time to dig up a plant and move it is when it is still dormant which should alleviate any stress to the plant, thus giving it a better chance for survival. Any time you transplant, be sure to fertilize with Quick Start. This is a root stimulator that will minimize transplant shock and give your plant a great start in its new home.
Some weeds never sleep, but germinate in fall and winter. It's best to yank them out by hand, and try to get to them before they go to seed. If you have a serious winter weed problem, make a note on your calendar for next Labor Day to treat your garden with a pre-emergent herbicide. Always apply according to label instructions.
Feed and prepare deciduous shade trees
If you didn't fertilize trees last fall, now is the time. The easiest way is to use either a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote or fertilizer spikes. If we don't get rain within a day or two, water to help wash the nutrients into the root zone.
That’s the easy part, but it's harder to get enough organic material into the root zone of a plant.The organic material helps tree roots retain moisture and nutrients. An inch or two of compost around the base of the tree is the perfect complement to the fertilizer. Just be careful not to mound it against the bark.
Prepare to repel pests
Some insects and disease-causing organisms lie dormant in the cold and emerge again in spring. Now is the time to spray deciduous trees and shrubs with Lime Sulfur and Dormant Oil. This spray is a combination of a fungicide and an insecticide which should eliminate many of the over wintering fungus and insects. Besides reducing the necessity for more spraying during the growing season, spraying now will insure the least negative impact on the environment.
To deter deer, rabbits, and other rodents, use a repellent spray such as Rabbit Solution or Liquid Fence.
Prepare outdoor containers
There's no need to wait until summer to plant containers. Pansies and other cold-tolerant annuals may be planted now, but you’ll still need to watch the weather and cover them if it gets too cold. Perennials, trees and shrubs make great container plants as well. You can plant these in your garden later on when you want to fill your planters with colorful annuals.
If you do a few tasks over the next few weeks, you will be getting a head start on the season. Plants that wake up in a properly prepared bed will be happier and perform better.
Don’t forget that you are not alone in this process. We are here to supply you with any tools or products you’ll need. If you feel you need more than a little advice, our staff would be happy to visit your house and help with your spring clean-up in whatever capacity you need. Give us a call at (262)367-6464.