Spring Cleaning In The Garden

Spring Cleaning In The Garden
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This time of the year I'm eager to be outside. I'm anxious for the sun's heat...the smell of moist soil, the sight of the crocuses and daffodils. Living in Zones 4/5 we do get heavy snows that often come during this month, April and even May. I must admit they provide welcome moisture, however, when they come in late April and May they bend and break so many of the herbs, flowers and ferns!
Now is the time to prune almost everything.

In cooler climates, herbs such as catnip, horehound, winter savory, oregano and lavender are more likely to survive a winter if the old stalks are left uncut in the fall. So by now, they are ready for a cleanup.

In warmer climates, sweet marjoram, pineapple sage, velvet sage (Salvia leucantha), Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida), and scented geraniums also overwinter better if left uncut. If you live in the warmer climates, just snip off the winter-burned tips of sage, rosemary and your other herbs to encourage new growth and a bushier shape. If you have a compost pile, just toss them in the pile or if you have a fireplace they make a fragrant blaze.

With newly sharpened clippers, cut the old, dead stems down to the ground, making way for the new shoots that will emerge from the crown. My husband bought a pussy willow bush early last fall, which we planted beside the upper pond. It could be pruned at any time but, we usually wait until just after flowering to prune spring flowering kinds-such as witch hazel and flowering quince. This is also a great time to do rejuvenation pruning of any overgrown shrubs.

Working Your Soil

Last fall the soil in the annual beds of the herb garden was forked over into rough clods. Exposure to alternating freezes and thaws killed many insects and heir larvae and eggs, as well as weed seeds. This is an excellent time to begin preparing seedbeds after the ground has thawed. Often, however, the soil is too wet to cultivate without compacting it and destroying its structure. To determine whether the soil is ready to work, squeeze a lump, then tap it-if it crumbles apart, then it's ready. If the soil remains in a stick ball-take care of other garden chores for a few days until the area dries out.

In the spring we dig into the very bottom of the compost pile and scratch it into the gardens. Herbs also benefit from an application of bone or blood meal, scratched in lightly. These organic additions make the soil richer, lighter and more crumbly...characteristics that promote excellent root growth.

Now is also the time to fertilize herbal trees and shrubs with a light application of a complete, slow release organic fertilizer, which can be repeated in May and again in July. However, we have had great luck just using the compost and blood or bone meal.

More Cleaning Up

This weekend Doug will rake the mulch off the perennial herb gardens in the front, (it gets full sun all day). Those in warmer climates can pull back the mulch now so that the returning sun will warm the soil more quickly. Gardeners in colder areas generally wait until early April or even later to start removing mulch. In our back gardens, where there is more shade we wait for at least a couple more weeks to pull the mulch off.

For the first time, we used straw for the mulch (last fall). I'm anxious to see how it did! But, in the fern beds, and around the garden 'edges', we used good old leaves. We leave a fine layer of these leaves each year and by the time fall comes around again, the leaves have been worked into the soil. Great for fern beds and garden edges where the fern and shrubs hide the leaves anyway!

We will throw the raked up straw and leaves into the compost pile....where it will cook and be ready for next year!


As soon as the ground is dry enough you can start transplanting. We will be transplanting several things this year. Overcrowded perennial herbs need to be divided as soon as new growth starts in the spring. "Traveling" herbs such as bee balm and the mints need to be lifted and replanted elsewhere in the garden or potted up. I will have lots of mint to be potted up and given to friends this year. We have a lot of adjusting and readjusting of plants to do this year, which is really good as it does make them grow better.

Remember...a garden is never finished, never perfect, but the process of continually refining it is so very satisfying.

When I divide overgrown perennial herbs, I begin by digging up the entire clump with a spading fork and shake off the soil. Then I tease apart sections of the crown or cut it into sections with an old serrated bread knife. Generally, I save the vigorous shoots in the outer portion of the crown and discard the tired center. (If I can even bear to part with the center!)

Disease is seldom a problem at this time of the year because the plants are growing so fast, but, if you can't get to dividing until later in the season you can dust the cut surfaces with a fungicide to prevent the entry of disease organisms.

Taking Care of the Odds and Ends

Tall, top-heavy perennial herbs, which tend to flop over and are vulnerable to the assaults of wind, rain, and hail, are best staked now, before the new growth emerges.

I sometimes use tomato cages cut in half horizontally with wire cutters and push them into the ground. The new shoots grow up and conceal the wires. Fennel, blue salvia, tansy and peonies get the tomato cage treatment in our gardens.

Now is a good time to update the plant labels (if you use them). And, now is the time to go through your tools, cleaning them, sharpening and oiling them as needed.

As the plants start coming up check the gardens for losses and make a list of herbs to fill any bare spots or for new beds.

And finally, while you are at the gardening center or ordering through the catalog, include a plant that you have never grown before. I have been doing that for the past 4 years (actually I get a couple different ones each year). Some have been great additions to the gardens.....some never survived! But...each new plant widens my experience as an herb gardener.


About The Author

herb gardens

Karen Hegre

I feel very fortunate to have met Karen, and to be able to share her wonderful crafts and herbal inspiration with our visitors. She has a gentle soul and contributes not only her words but encouragement as well.

Karen is a Master Gardener specializing in herbs, a mom and grandma. She and her husband have a Backyard Wildlife Habitat, plus 'Fairy Gardens' where the children can learn about different herbs and hear Karen read a story about the Garden Fairies and Flowers. They are open to the public May through September.

Karen owns several discussion lists, which we have listed below with the subscription information. All are free to join and a joy to be a member of!

Karen's Herbal Kitchen: A list for exchanging herbal recipes! Click Here to subscribe.

Nature Crafts: This is a list for those who enjoy crafting with Nature and want to learn more!! We will share projects, learn ways of preserving those natural items and much more. Click Here to subscribe.

Keepers Of the Gardens: This list is a 'learning & sharing' list on how to create beautiful back yard habitats for birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other wildlife including bees, dragonflies, frogs, toads & other friendly insects & reptiles. Click Here to subscribe.

Aromatherapy One-0-One: This is a list for learning the basics of Aromatherapy and Essential Oils. A friendly place for questions and ideas... a place where we can learn from each other. Click Here to subscribe.


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