Spring landscape cleanup is underway. Weekend warriors are slashing, chopping and bagging, getting beds ready for summer. Cleanup is straightforward, but a few tips will save time and money.
Start by removing dead growth
Garden cleanup can seem like an overwhelming task. Begin by removing as much debris as possible.
I start by cutting back all the dead growth. This includes dead stems of perennials and light pruning. Dead growth provides no benefit and harbors insects and disease.
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Leaves: Remove or keep
Landscape beds are filled with leaves that have blown in over the winter. There is debate about whether these old leaves should be left or removed.
The trend by many greener gardeners is to leave the old leaves in place. They don’t carry insects or disease and are an excellent source of organic matter, reducing mulch.
I like to redistribute the leaves around the bed, leaving a layer in the garden. I take my hands or a small garden rake and crush. Breaking the dry leaves will reduce the fluff and leave a thin layer.
It goes without saying that leaving the leaves reduces the amount of them you have to remove, bag and dispose of, saving you time and money.
Mulch is the finishing touch
Now you are ready to finish with a layer of mulch, giving the bed a professional look for summer. Mulch is our best defense against weeds, and it conserves moisture and keeps the soil cooler. This helps the plants thrive under stressful summer conditions.
The layer of organic matter, including the chopped leaves and mulch, should be around 3 inches deep for maximum benefits.
The best mulch is organic, such as shredded wood products. They have a natural look and break down, helping to improve our soils. Unfortunately, because they do break down, the mulch layer usually needs to be replenished each year. Last year’s mulch layer does not need to be removed.
Rules of mulching
Other than the thickness of the layer, there are few rules in mulching. However, you should keep the mulch from making contact with plant materials. If mulch touches the trunks of trees, shrubs and perennials, moisture is retained during wet periods. Continual moisture leads to rot of woody bark, which causes long-term harm.
I like to think doughnuts when mulching. That is to leave a hole or ring around the plant just a few inches away.
Lastly, there can be confusion on which mulch to use as there are a number of types on the market. All organic wood mulches provide the same benefit; the difference is in your desired look and price. Select the product that meets your needs.
One last word: Mulch serves a function in the landscape. It is not meant to provide color or call attention. Avoid brightly colored dyed materials, as they detract from your landscape rather than enhancing it. The stars of the garden are your plants. Mulch is the earthen-looking covering adding that final touch for a classy look.