As we walk around the yard on some of our nicer days, we walked by some of our flower beds where the snow had finally melted. It is amazing how many leaves, trash, and left over plant material that the melted snow leaves behind. It doesn’t matter how well you clean up in the fall, the passing of winter leaves more to tidy up.
Obviously, spring cleaning will make your yard look more neat and tidy but there are other reasons to complete this task. The leaves provide a place for bugs to hide. They also hold moisture around the stems of shrubs or on perennials and this can cause rotting issues. The dead parts of perennials should be cut back for the same reasons. They can also host diseases that may infect this year’s new growth. Last year’s spent perennials should be cut back all the way to the ground. Ornamental grass should be cut down to about a 3 inch height. Some perennials are somewhat evergreen, especially if they have been covered with snow or if it’s been a mild winter. Plants like heuchera, some grassy type plants—hellebores to name a few—should have the dead and bad looking leaves pruned out.
On woody plants like Knock Out Roses and hydrangeas, we generally like to wait until we see some new growth starting before we cut them back. The tops of those plants can die way back during a severe winter so you will want to cut back all of the dead wood. Butterfly Bush, wait for signs of green at the base and then cut it back to 6 – 10 inches. Mums are the same, we wait until we see sprouts of green pop through the ground and then we prune them to about 3 inches from the ground.
Although Hosta foliage gets ugly over winter, some Hosta varieties can be damaged by spring frosts and benefit from the protection of the collapsed foliage.
For Lamb’s Ear, remove the winter damage when the leaves perk up in the spring.
We sometimes have a hard time over-wintering lavender. The problem is more often moisture than cold, but cold is a factor. Don’t prune lavender late in the season, as new growth is extremely cold sensitive. Wait until new growth appears in the spring before removing winter die back. Russian Sage doesn’t like to be trimmed back in the fall, because its tender growth is too sensitive to cold. Wait until new growth appears in the spring and then cut back to about 6 – 8”. If the only new growth is from the base of the plant, the entire top woody section has died back and it can be pruned to the ground.
The flowers on the sea lavender are held so high on this airy plant that it’s easy to forget the cluster of leaves at the base. They need to have a good clean-up this spring of any die back from the winter.
Many of the tall Sedums can remain attractive throughout the winter, even holding caps of snow on their flower heads. ‘Autumn Joy’, in particular, holds up very well. The basal foliage appears very early in spring, so Sedum can be one of the first plants you prune in the spring.
Spring cleanup does not necessarily sound like a glamorous thing to do but it’s necessary. The good thing about it is it comes at a time of year when we are all itching to get outdoors anyway. There are a few nice days in the forecast so go ahead, get outside and clean up your area.
Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. This column shared through the AIM Media Midwest group of newspapers.