KC Gardens

It’s already time to be thinking about spring cleaning in the garden. A few tips...

By Dennis Patton

Phlox and garden debris in the spring.
Phlox and garden debris in the spring. Submitted.

The warmer February weather has started the blood pulsing through the gardener’s veins. The combination of nicer and longer days has us itching to get back into the garden. The signs of spring’s coming arrival can be seen in small ways. Bulbs are coming up, buds are plumping and the birds sing ever so louder.

The arrival of March signals the start of another gardening season. Pleasant late winter days offer the opportunity to get a jump on the rush of spring projects.

One such project that can begin is winter cleanup. Spring garden clean up involves the removal of the old dead debris and litter that has blown into the garden. The Johnson County Extension office gets a number of questions about just what can be accomplished in the cleanup process. Here are a few tips to help you out.

If it is brown cut it down!

Many of our flower garden plants tend to die back to the ground over winter. Any of this dead brown growth can be completely removed from the garden. This would include stems of ornamental grasses, phlox and other perennials. The goal is to trim this dead debris as close to the ground as possible. As the new growth emerges it will cover up the old decaying stems. The garden will soon have a new spring green color as the old debris disappears.

Material removed from the garden can either be composted at home or bagged and sent to the municipal composting site. A word of caution as much of this woody debris will be very difficult to compost.

Another emerging trend is to not remove the cut back growth from the garden. Instead chop it and lay it back on the soil to naturally breakdown. Call it composting in place. This method reduces all the work of composting or bagging. Consider it a time saver.

Are you worried about insect and disease on the old material? Don’t. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages of the make-shift mulch. With that being said, if it is heavily infested then removal would be best, even bypassing the compost pile straight to the landfill composting site.

Leaves everywhere

Winter winds have a way of carrying everyone else’s leaves into the garden. Drifts of leaves collect around the garden. Left in place these mountains of leaves will shade out the tender new growth and could kill the plant. The traditional thought was to remove all the wind-blown leaves from the garden. This is time consuming work.

Along the lines of dropping the brown debris in the garden is the trendier option which is to simply rearrange the garden leaves to develop a layer of decomposing leaf mulch. This option basically lets you spread out the piled leaves evenly throughout the garden. We all know the value of a nice two to three inch layer of mulch in the garden to conserve water and control weeds.

Top dress with mulch

Once the garden is cleaned and the leaves have been rearranged, the final clean up step can take place — the topdressing of nice, attractive mulch. The benefit of leaving the debris and leaves in place is that less organic wood mulch is needed. Simply add enough decorative wood mulch to achieve the required two- to three-inches of mulch. The process of leaving the debris and leaves in place greatly saves time and energy, but also money as less is spent on purchasing wood chips or bark.

Spring cleanup is just what the doctor ordered for a gardener. Yes, it sounds like work — and it is work — but what better way to enjoy the changing of the seasons.