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Gardening with George Weigel

Answers to your gardening questions and other tips by George Weigel.

Last Build Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2018 13:05:44 UTC

Copyright: Copyright 2018

Spring yard-cleanup time... but not too clean: This Week in the Garden

Sat, 06 Jan 2018 13:00:44 UTC


This weekend's yard jobs include cutting back spent foliage from last year, raking away excess leaves from emerging perennials and the lawn, and planting the season's first crops. Clearing the way One of the first jobs of the gardening season is cutting back the dead growth from last year's perennial flowers. Most perennials, such as daylilies, black-eyed susans, coneflowers, and sedum, die back to the ground when a killing frost occurs in fall (or soon after). That browned-out growth should be removed to make way for this year's new growth - especially if last year's foliage was diseased or bug-ridden. Some foliage will come off easily and can be pulled or raked. Others need to be clipped off with pruners or shears. If you're cutting, remove just the dead leaves and stems at or just above ground level; don't gouge into the roots or crowns below the ground where new shoots will emerge. Add healthy but frost-killed foliage to your compost pile. Bag and toss diseased or pest-bug-containing foliage to discourage reintroducing last year's trouble. Some perennials, such as Lenten rose, dianthus, and coralbells, are "evergreen" perennials that hold their leaves all winter. These can be clipped or neatened as needed as opposed to being cut to the ground. Read George's article on the best new perennial flowers of 2018 You might also need to rake away matted leaves that are covering perennials. Leaves make good insulation over winter, but once the growing season arrives, excess quantities can hinder new shoots. While you're at it, now's a good time to rake matted leaves, fallen sticks, and any other winter debris from the lawn. After you've cleaned and cleared, make a sharp cut around the perimeter of your garden beds. This "edging" work stops grass from migrating into the beds, gives a neat look to the gardens, and makes a "lip" to keep mulch from spilling into the grass. Here's a list to help you keep track of which perennials need what kind of spring cutback: Cut to the ground: acanthus, amsonia, anemone, armeria, aster, astilbe, balloon flower, baptisia, beebalm, black-eyed susan, bleeding heart, boltonia, brunnera, campanula, centaurea, cimicifuga, columbine, coneflower, corydalis, coreopsis, crocosmia, daylily, delphinium, echinops, epimedium, eupatorium, ferns, filipendula, gaillardia, garden phlox, geum, goats beard, goldenrod, hardy hibiscus, helianthus, heliopsis, hollyhock, hosta, iris, Jacob's ladder, lamb's ear, liatris, ligularia, lily, lobelia, lupine, lychnis, lysimachia, milkweed, monkshood, mum, obedient plant, penstemon, peony, poppy, rose mallow, salvia, sea holly, sedum, sneezeweed, spiderwort, sundrops, stokesia, turtlehead, verbascum, veronica, yarrow. Cut back to 2 or 3 inches before new growth begins: artemisia, baby's breath, candytuft (right after blooming), catmint, creeping phlox, gaura, hardy geranium, Jupiter's beard, lady's mantle, leadwort, liriope, ornamental grasses, red hot poker, Russian sage, scabiosa, thyme. Trim off ratty foliage as needed: ajuga, bergenia, coralbells, dianthus, evergreen ferns, foamflowers, foamybells, lamium, Lenten rose, ornamental strawberry, pulmonaria, snow-in-summer, verbena. Not too neat, though Beneficial bug eggs and cases sometimes are hidden in the "duff" of fallen leaves and spent foliage from last year.George Weigel  There's a difference between selectively cleaning garden beds and sanitizing the whole landscape by getting rid of every last spent leaf. Pollinators and other beneficial insects (mantids, parasitic wasps, hover flies, ground beetles, spiders, etc.) often overwinter in the "duff" of fallen leaves and frost-killed plants. So how are you supposed to balance plant needs and aesthetics while being kind to nature? One option is to delay cleanup. For starters, it's helpful to limit fall cleanup so beneficials have shelter over winter and birds have seeds from dead but standing perennials. But also, the later you can wait in spring to cut and rake, the more beneficia[...]

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