Ready, Set, Grow: My Spring Garden Tasks

Don’t Clean Up Your Garden, Restart It

Are gardens dirty places?

I suppose they are, but that’s a good thing, surely. Why then do we talk about “cleaning up” our gardens for the next growing season?

“While the conclusion of winter brings about a necessary period of garden work, I prefer to think of this as a restart rather than a refresh. As the garden reenters an active period, how you steward the return of life should be the focus of your efforts.”

I read these words by Kelly Norris in his book New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden, and I love the subtle shift in perspective he offers.

Rather than viewing our gardens as tattered and messy after the dormant season–in other words, in need of a good tidying–we can see ourselves as caretakers helping everything to get growing again.

Where a garden cleanup might focus on removing plant matter, a garden restart will focus on re-using plant matter, whether in a compost pile or right there as a mulch in the borders.


Here are some of the chores I’ll be tackling in the next few weeks as I help prepare my garden for spring:


  • Cutting back the dead grasses: I am going to try chopping up some of this material and leaving it in place as a mulch


  • Pruning the roses: this will stimulate growth so I will wait till after the chance of really cold weather has passed


  • Removing some (but not all) of the drifted leaves from my flower beds


  • Cutting back the dead foliage of perennials: for instance, I have a lot of catmint (nepeta) needing to be cut to the ground


A Tip: For years, I would “clean up” the foliage of last year’s annual flowers by tugging them out of the ground, roots and all. Now I use clippers to cut them back to the soil. I leave the roots in place, which means I don’t lose any of my precious soil, and the old roots are left to decompose under the ground which improves the soil.


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Posted on

March 1, 2021

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