March is the time of year I dread walking into my garden. I have to avert my eyes. The sight of dead foliage, piles of leaves, exposed dirt and other yard vomit depresses me. I haven’t started my gardening cleanup yet, but already I feel defeated.
Although instant love is created on the TV series, The Bachelor, taming your garden after a long winter isn’t something that can be done in an hour.
It takes time to bring a garden back to some semblance of order. After all, it took months for it to look like the little garden of horrors; it’s going to require at least a few weeks to make it look like the Garden of Eden, or at least less like something you’d find in the Adam’s Family’s backyard.
I must confess: I’m in a panic. This June, my gardens are slated to be one of the featured places in the Idaho Botanical Garden’s Garden Tour. As I look out into my front and backyards, I see nothing but toil and tears ahead. In upcoming blog posts, I’m going to chronicle what my own garden prep involves. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to look away, but I hope I can inspire you to keep at it. Because, unlike some things, a garden needs effort to look good.
This is what my garden looks like as of March 8.
In addition to garden cleanup, I’m having my siding replaced. What a mess.
It looks like I'm trying to grow dirt. I'm not, believe me. I'm hoping the wooly thyme will fill in during the spring.
The siding people are trampling the irises. More dirt.
I'm surprised that my concrete sculptures haven't gotten up and walked away.
I tackled this section yesterday. I wanted to weep.
Lots of weeds are trying to take over in this section. Plus, the leaves!
This pic shows one of the piles of dirt left by my friend, the pocket gopher. Relocation of the varmint is a work in process.
Notice the tree that I never got around to chopping down completely. I’m waiting for my brother-in-law to give me my bow saw tutorial. (Or waiting for him to cut it down for me.)
Getting the leaves out of groundcover is an exercise in patience. It brings out my OCD tendencies.
I hate my neighbor's pine trees. I actually pick up the pine needles by hand. It takes days to get them all.
I wish I could unsee this. I got a start on combing one of the ornamental grasses and then started to hyperventilate. ARRRRGGGGH.
My back patio is so, so not chilling out ready!
My vegetable garden. Can't imagine a single veggie that would be proud to sit here.
And now for the:
Spring Garden Task List
Here’s a list of tasks to do during spring garden cleanup. These are things that you can do by yourself. Because you’re not Martha Stewart. You don’t have “people.” It’s just you against the elements and plants gone wild.
1. Divide your garden into work sections. You’re not going to do the entire garden in one day—take one section at a time. You have other things to do and you don’t want to risk becoming overwhelmed. Otherwise, you’re likely to tear back into the house to numb your anxiety with a bottle of vodka.
2. Prune back the dead stuff. When you see new growth at the base of plants, it's safe to cut them back to ground level.
Some plants, like lavender, require a special pruning regimen.
If you’re in doubt about how to prune a particular plant, Google “how to prune [insert plant name here]."
However, if you’re well into spring and still don’t see new growth at the base of a plant, have a short memorial service and then pull the plant out of the ground, toss it into the compost and replace it.
dead plant pic
Tree pruning is too large a topic to cover here. But you should prune fruit trees before you see buds, otherwise, you might be buying store-bought all summer long.
Here’s an excellent site about pruning trees.
3. If you planted annuals, get rid of them. Like your useless ex-boyfriend, they’re not coming back.
4. Do you have grasses? Not the lawn variety. There are cool season and warm season growing grasses, which you treat differently. Cool season grasses have evergreen foliage and these shouldn’t be cut to the ground. Instead, you need to comb out the dead leaves (wear gloves) and clip off dead leaf tips.
More here about caring for ornamental grasses.
4. Remove any remaining leaves and pine needles you left there last fall because you got sick of picking them up or ran out of leaf bags. Don’t feel guilty—most of those leaves provided nice protection for your sleeping plants and the little critters under the dirt.
5. Replenish the gravel beds or wood chip areas making up your hardscape. Some of my gravel beds have a layer of dirt on top thanks to a pesky pocket gopher who has made my life a living hell.
6. Rake in a layer of compost over your vegetable beds.
7. Get to work weeding the garden. It’s incredible how weeds can sprout up all over during cold weather when other things are taking a nap. They’re opportunists, but you’re the boss.
In my case, I'll be starting in the front yard in a section that used to be my mother's garden. I've got a bit of pruning to do and a lot of leaf pickup. Since we've got rain in the forecast, I'll have a few days to get up some courage.
But, I'm trying to be a glass half-full gardener this year. So, I'll keep the memories of my veronica, penstemon, oenothera (sundrops), phlox and lots of other lovelies blooming as I slog through this gardening adventure. How do you handle your spring cleanup?