A Garden Blog About Saying Goodbye

I'm a gardener in Chicago, IL, and I'm leaving my garden behind at the end of the year - The Last Garden is about my garden's final year. Share & Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring Clean-up

My trusty Corona BP3140 pruners, which ironically fell apart right
in the middle of this project - I used them too much and cleaned them too
little. If, unlike me, you take care of your pruners, that won't happen.

I freely admit that the spring clean up is a thing that should probably just be done and not talked too much about, but it's also true that it can be a giant intimidating project that sometimes we need a bit of inspiration for. Hence, a long series of before-and-after photos.

One of the main beds on March 25. I didn't even bother to take down the annuals last fall, so it looks nice and grubby.

Ta-dah! A wonderful example of my cleaning philosophy, which is as follows: destroy freaking everything. Don't stop to think about how hard the work is, or how little you've gotten done, or whether or not you're ripping the tulip leaves. Take a rake and rake absolutely everything out of your beds. Everything. And if there are any persistent leaves or stems, get in there and chop them out with your trusty pruners. Then rake again.

Also, this is what happens when you don't cut down your peonies
in the fall and put the cages away for winter. It's pretty gross.

Just take the rake, stick it way in the back of the bed, and bring it forward, over and over and over again. If it refuses to rake forward, get in and pull up any obstinate annuals, or, again, take your pruners and just cut the stems and leaves away. Don't even bother the toss them anywhere - leave them where they fall and rake them away.

Once you've got little piles of leaves dotting your lawn, go around with a wheelbarrow and cart them off to wherever. So far as I can tell, leaving bits of leaves and stems in your lawn to decompose is fine, so long as you're not leaving a bunch of weed seeds in your lawn.

In general, I leave Iris foliage up all winter and then cut it down when it begins growing again in spring, purely because I like seeing the green leaves when the snow melts.

On another note, try not to leave your soil bare like this. You can clearly see how much the soil's dried out in between the fifth and sixth photos above - that's because all those leaves and stems were insulating the ground and holding the moisture down. If you have compost, spread that, or try my newest trick: the next time you or one of your neighbors needs to get a tree cut down, ask the arborists to chip the wood and leave the woodchips in your yard. It looks a bit ugly but it's dead useful to have a big old pile of otherwise free woodchips laying around. There are some negatives to this - it can spread disease if the tree died of rot or an insect infestation or something, and also it takes up a lot of space and small children can climb up the heap and fall off and break their limbs and such. As always, think before you spread giant piles of chopped-up tree everywhere.

That corner attracts maple leaves like crazy. There's nothing I can do about it - it's just what the wind wants for this spot. Sometimes things are like that.

If you're feeling ambitious and you have the space, you can take all that stuff and pile it up in a corner or a crevice somewhere. Get a pitchfork or a shovel and move it around a bit once a month or so, and by summer you get some nice compost. It's more useful and convenient than leaving it all laying around in paper bags on the street.

And, of course, you find lovely nice things underneath all those leaves. The early spring leaves of Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla mollis.

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