Spring garden clean up season sounds pretty good right about now doesn’t it? After surviving the frozen tundra, I bet most of you are chomping at the bit to get out in the garden and tidy it up.
Hold on just a second. It’s literally only been a week since our garden last had snow dumped on it! Have you really given the plants in your gardens and landscape enough time to rejuvenate so you can clearly see the damage? If you haven’t read, “Are My Plants Coming Back After The Freeze?”, take a moment to check out our advice about assessing freeze damage, and waiting to prune. (You might have to wait a month or longer for some plants…citrus, tropicals, etc…)
Once you can clearly see what is coming back and what’s a goner, you can head out into the garden to clean up for spring. We’ve compiled a few things to keep in mind and some great tips below.
Spring Garden Clean Up Tips
1. Be mindful and watchful of hibernating beneficial insects during spring garden clean up.
Many insects are in diapause and still overwintering in the dried foliage of your plants, shrubs and trees. Mulch piles and leaf litter are a favorite habitat too! These sleeping insects are waiting for steady warm weather to wake up and emerge. How sad would it be if on the day you awake to spread your wings and take flight for the first time in your life, you are suddenly stuffed violently into a, gasp, trash can!
We’re just asking that you be selective in your pruning during your spring garden clean up. You are already using a keen eye to only prune to cream/green viable plant material, so you can also keep an eye out for beneficial insect cocoons, nests, pupae, etc…
If you prune multiple limbs at once, loosely pile them in the compost bin, or bundle branches and limbs together and leave somewhere out of the way to allow any hanger ons to continue to the next stage of their lifecycle. You can keep bundles around for future habitats, or discard once spring is well on the way.
Tip: Wait to rake. Leaf litter is a favorite overwintering site for beneficial insects. Leave The Leaves! Again, wait for consistent warm weather to allow time for the insects to wake up and depart. And remember, piles of leaves decompose naturally and make great compost.
2. Start spring garden clean up with SHARP, CLEAN, tools.
While you are waiting to prune you can give your tools a little TLC. Sharpen pruners and mower blades, oil tools and tighten screws to get ready for spring. If your tools can’t cut cleanly through plant material without leaving torn or shredded plants behind, it’s time to come get new ones.
Plants that get pruned with blades that are dull and dinged up can cause more harm than good. Damaged plant material is like a welcome sign for spring disease and pests.
Tip: Make a disinfectant solution of 9:1 water to bleach. Dip your pruners into this solution between each cut you make on your plants. If that sounds too tedious, at least clean your pruners in the solution between each plant. This will help prevent the spread of possible disease.
3. Be selective when pruning during spring garden clean up.
You now know the importance of being selective with pruning to watch out for the beneficial insects, and when pruning your freeze damaged plants. We also usually tell you to be selective in WHICH plants you prune.
Generally, we tell you to hold off on pruning summer-blooming shrubs because doing so in spring will sacrifice your flowers in summer. THIS YEAR is different. You are going to need to prune the freeze damage off your summer-booming shrubs. Summer-blooming shrubs generally bloom on the previous season’s growth, so since the freeze already damaged that and these plants are unlikely to bloom this summer anyway, prune away.
Tip: Plant some colorful warm weather annuals around those shrubs and enjoy their color this year. Look forward to next summer’s blooms on those shrubs. If you don’t have extensive damage to woody perennials like, salvias, you should still get plenty of flowers as they produce blooms 3 out of 4 seasons.
4. Don’t forget about your turf during spring clean up.
This is the most important time to prepare your turf for spring, summer, and fall. Yes, all 3! If you don’t get your pre-emergent weed control put down, you will be greeted by some unruly weeds in fall.
When turf begins to wake up, it will be time to give it some fertilizer,but not until late March and late April. Spring fertilizers usually have a high nitrogen formula that provide a quick green up for your lawns.
Hope you made sharpening those mower blades one of your spring garden clean up tasks. Mowing season is right around the corner. Check out our best lawn mowing practices guide here. You can also take a look at our San Antonio Lawns page to get a look at what you need to do and watch out for throughout the year.
Tip: A healthy, well-fed lawn chokes out weeds and resists pest and disease.
5. Okay, okay, mid March should be ok to unleash your pruners for MOST of spring garden clean up (there will be exceptions because of the deep freeze).
Watch the weather, keep your winter freeze protection handy in case of another late freeze. Surprise! Waiting to prune for a few weeks (maybe months for some trees), will help you really see the extent of the freeze damage this year. Nobody wants to hear it, but we gotta wait and see.
If you can obviously see new growth coming up from the base of a perennial plant, you can probably go ahead and cut the plant back. Keep in mind, the new growth will be vulnerable. Make sure you do cut off any mushy parts of susceptible plants (elephant ears, aloe vera, etc…) which could breed fungal disease.
Tip: Pinch back damage off of cool weather pansies. They might have survived and will regenerate quickly with a little water and fertilizer and give you color well into spring.
What to Prune in Spring/mid March in San Antonio
REMEMBER…ANYTHING YOU CUT WILL BE MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO DAMAGE FROM A SUBSEQUENT LATE SPRING FREEZE, SO MAKE SURE TO COVER AND PROTECT IT! And remember to wait a little longer to assess freeze damage.
Here’s a guide to what to prune in general, and what not to prune during spring garden clean up:
-Prune ornamental and shade trees (not oaks, and please, PLEASE, don’t hack off the tops of crape myrtles!!!!!)
-Do not prune Oaks Feb – June in Texas. This is when the beetles that carry the Oak Wilt fungal spores are most active.
-Wait until April to prune citrus, after grow back so you can see the extent of any freeze damage.
-Prune plants like Elephant Ears, Cannas by using a sharp knife to cut off the mushy parts. You can do this now, the mushy parts tend to harbor fungal disease.
-Prune roses. See our Youtube video for instructions.
-Prune perennials to about 3″ above ground.
-Give ornamental grasses a haircut with pruning shears to about 6 inches above ground.
-A lawn trimmer, or mower can cut back established groundcovers with a mat-like growth habit (Asiatic jasmine, mondo grass, etc…). If using a lawn trimmer, be mindful that the string doesn’t come in contact with tree trunks.