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Get a Jump on Spring Cleaning the Garden

Winter affords us an opportunity to take a break from working outside, but beginning in February warmer days leave us yearning to be back in the garden. You can get a jump on spring cleaning if you remember three important points.

1. Beneficial insects have been overwintering in the perennials and grasses that were left unpruned over the winter. As temperatures rise, they begin waking up. Wait to start cleaning up until the day time temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees.

2. Soil must be dry before walking in the garden or it will become compacted. A good test is to take a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball. Drop the ball from waist height and if it shatters, the soil is dry enough to walk in the garden.

3. The average last killing frost date range for McKinney is March 16-31. It’s safe to plant trees and large shrubs, but wait to plant perennials or cold-sensitive plants.

Here are some things you can do to get a jump on spring cleaning:

Removing annuals from the previous season, dead vegetation from herbaceous perennials, and pruning back woody perennials to 2-4” from the ground will instantly give the garden a more tidy appearance, so this is where I always start.

Perennials that remain evergreen through the winter may need a light pruning to remove damaged foliage, tidy up, and encourage new growth. Shrubby perennials like sage, lavender and rosemary benefit from a hard pruning so they don’t become woody and/or gnarled.

Cut back ornamental grasses to within a few inches from the ground. Don’t wait for new growth or you may injure or disfigure the plant.

Valentine’s Day is the average date to prune roses, but it’s been a little cold this February. Better to watch the bush so you can prune before the leaf buds begin to plump. For specific pruning guidance, review “The Well Loved Rose” (February 14, 2018).

In general, shrubs and trees that flower in the spring should be pruned after flowering. If you are unsure, check a reliable resource. When pruning, be on the lookout for eggs and chrysalis so you can protect them.

Dormant trees can be pruned to remove dead, damaged, diseased and rubbing branches. Remove suckers and water sprouts. If you plan to shape the crown, carefully consider every cut.

Rake up leaves and weed the garden beds. Unless diseased, most of what you clean up can go into the compost pile. If you’re planning to start a new compost pile, this is the time to do it.

Plant cool season herbs, vegetables and early spring blooming annuals directly in the garden (after raking smooth the soil). Sow seeds of tomatoes, peppers, marigolds and periwinkles indoors.

Fertilize cool season grasses and winter annuals with a slow release, balanced fertilizer. If you apply pre-emergent to established lawns, your first application is late this month.

Perform an irrigation system audit and review my article “12 Tips to Water Efficiently” (September 10, 2018). Some other general garden chores you can tackle now include having the lawn equipment serviced, remove and clean bird feeders, put up hummingbird feeders and butterfly boxes, and be prepared to protect plants if an unexpected freeze is predicted.

Colder days will have you sitting by the fire with a cup of tea and “armchair gardening”. Plan new gardens and reference the best varieties for plants that need to be replaced. Look for an upcoming article “Navigating the Nursery” for tips on how to shop with confidence.

Dream big and get lots of sleep, because when March arrives it will be time to begin planting, dividing, mulching and the gardening season begins in earnest.

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