4 Tips for Spring Clean Up

In winter, when the temperatures start to warm up and it starts getting sunnier, we think of spring! We’re ready to tidy up our gardens! Before you get started, we have a few tips to make sure your garden stays healthy and beautiful.

1 - Wait until it's warm enough.

A gardener cleans up their mixed perennial and shrub bed in the springtime.

In very warm southern or western areas of North America, insects may not be resting in debris over the winter. If that’s you, disregard this first point. 

In colder gardens, it’s best to wait to remove the debris from the soil surface until the daytime temperatures are above 50 degrees reliably. That gives insects time to wake up and get into your garden. If you have to clean out your garden before then, gather debris as gently as you can and leave it in a pile as near to your garden as possible.

2 - Attend to diseased foliage.

A broadleaf evergreen with a severe case of leaf spot.

Sometimes your plants will get pesky powdery mildew or black spot. It’s best to clean up that infected foliage in the fall. If you didn’t get to it then, the second best time to do it is right now, before it’s combined with the rest of your yard waste.

Remove all debris from beneath and around the plant, even the mulch. Throw it into the trash. This will help keep your plant and the plants nearby from getting infected or re-infected as easily. It may seem wrong to put it in the trash and not your compost or yard waste bin, but this will help keep future plants healthy when they come in contact with your garden debris.

3 - Prune shrubs with confidence.

A gardener gets ready to prune a rose bush in the spring time.

Or not at all! If you’re unsure whether your shrub needs to be pruned, play it safe. Shrubs that like to be pruned will not suffer by waiting a year while you research, observe, and learn about them. In fact, it’s possible to do more harm than good by pruning a shrub that doesn’t need it (or benefit from it). Some shrubs form their flower buds on old growth. These are stems the plant produced during the previous growing season. Pruning those off can potentially mean a poor flower show.

The one exception here is pruning out dead or damaged wood. That can be done to any shrub.

4 - Mulch properly.

Mulch in the garden should only get to a maximum of four inches deep. Mulch in areas where there aren’t plants growing can be any depth. If you have applied mulch a few seasons in a row and intend to do it again, check the depth before you get started. While you’re going through the garden, ensure there isn’t mulch touching the bases of any of your shrubs.

If the mulch isn’t breaking down as fast as you’d like, you might have to remove some to keep it at an appropriate level. If it gets too high, it could eventually start to cover the base of the plant. This is particularly harmful for shrubs, as their branches may start to send roots out into that decomposing mulch. If left unchecked, those roots could grow around the base of the plant and squeeze it until it’s too unhealthy to be handsome. 

Want to get an idea of what spring clean up looks like in a garden filled with perennials and shrubs? Watch our series of YouTube shorts!

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Picture of Kristina Howley

Kristina Howley

I am all in when it comes to gardening. Almost every part of the experience delights me – new leaves emerging in spring, pollinators buzzing in summer, birds devouring berries in fall, and the somber beauty of seed heads in winter. Thanks to a background in horticulture and gardening my own clay-filled, flowery USDA zone 5b plot, I’ve learned plenty of practical things as well. I like sharing these joys and lessons with my fellow gardeners and soon-to-be gardeners any way I can.


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