Spring fever

Yesterday, for the first time, my shade garden was free of snow, which leads me to wonder when I should rake off the protective layer of leaves that covered it all winter. If you read this blog, you know that I don’t do any fall cleanup–I just leave the fallen leaves in place on the beds to serve as winter mulch. And if you have oaks or almost any other type of tree, you can leave them in the spring as well. However, I have maples (wretched, invasive Norway maples), and maple leaves break down slowly and form an impermeable layer that smothers new growth. So I must rake the leaves off most of my perennials beds in the spring. I do this gradually, starting with the shadiest bed in the back, because that has the earliest spring ephemerals. Hence the question: should I remove the leaves now or wait until things warm up a bit? I’ll probably go ahead and do it, because the plants growing there are all tough little guys, and they can take another cold spell if one should come along.

Removing last year’s growth from all my perennial beds is my biggest springtime chore; I’ll start very soon and end with the sunniest beds around May 1. (Look for future posts about spring–not fall–garden cleanup.) As I clear, I’ll weed as necessary, because once the plants grow tall I won’t be able to see most of the weeds anymore. My gardens are closely planted. Then I’ll move and divide plants as needed, and plant the new perennials I’ve ordered to arrive on April 25 (expect a couple of posts about that). Also, throughout the spring, I’ll be pulling up invasive weeds, particularly seedlings of Norway maples and English ivy in my mini-woodland.

Those are my normal springtime chores, and once they’re done, most of the garden work is accomplished for the year. Every year, in addition, there’s a list of special chores: things I noticed last year that need fixing or improving or changing. Here’s a partial list for this coming season:

— remove taller perennials, especially Rudbeckia subtomentosa (sweet black-eyed susan) that has spread to the front of the main perennial bed. It’s gorgeous, but there’s way too much of it, and it’s too tall to be at the front of the border.

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— making everything look neater, which will involve reseeding the lawn in spots, adding mulch, and digging cleaner edges

— enlarge one of the shrub beds along the sidewalk by mulching a larger area and spreading out the spring-blooming perennials and ferns already growing there

Look for updates as spring advances. Soon we’ll be enjoying scenes like these:

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