closeup of someone pruning a woody plant
CUTTING LOOSE: Sharpening pruning shears that have been in winter storage is a first step to sprucing up the garden. Gardeners need their tools sharp and ready to remove debris and start their outdoor retreats off to a healthy start.

Time to tidy up the garden

Grow Native: Spring-cleaning the garden is around the corner. Are you ready?

As warmth and humid air returns to Missouri, my skin stops itching and I find myself out in the garden tidying up, picking up sticks, pulling weeds, and thinking about carrot rows and trellises. The passing of the torch from Old Man Winter to Spry Boy Spring is a much-welcomed annual transition.

I don’t know why, but it is cleansing, invigorating and renewing, and pulls me out of winter stasis with a slap in the face like Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap. My brain cells wake up and fire ideas left and right … more wild plums, less garden phlox, better cherry pitter! A list emerges, and thus begins the gardeners' new year.

In spring, overlooked and ignored chores come into focus. Dull pruners and loppers are sharpened. Mulch is delivered and thin areas are topped off. Henbit is pulled. Lone grass clumps are set afire — with a garden hose ready. Stray and rubbing tree and shrub branches are pruned off. Sedges are mowed or cut down before their green growth emerges. Chores somehow seem OK, satisfying and fun.

READY FOR A MAKEOVER: Dead leaves, remnants of flowers and tree limbs will all need to be removed to make the garden ready for spring planting and growth. A good bucket to carry the tools needed to tidy up the garden area is a must for gardeners.

Garden beds are edged and new ones are laid out with a hose. Sod is cut and moved to fill gaps in the lawn, but most ends up in the compost pile (a little topsoil in bins makes compost decompose faster). Last year’s compost is mixed with topsoil to make a new asparagus bed. In my opinion, there is nothing sweeter than fresh-cut asparagus.

Keeping animals out
Last year’s shining bluestar stalks are cut down, its clumps are divided and then added down the sidewalk to lengthen the hedge that keeps the neighbor’s dogs off the grass. Overly vigorous vines and shrubs are sternly controlled with those sharp loppers and hand saws with new blades. I cut willows and sumac to the ground every other year to reduce their height. Young vines are tied up and caged with rings of chicken wire to keep the rabbits away. Checking off items on the list may be obsessive.

Seed stalks of perennials are finally cut down after feeding hungry birds all winter, and then are fed to the compost bin. Fence posts are shored up. Garden hoses are checked for missing rubber washers and mouse chewings. Irrigation systems are tested and repaired. Garden furniture is rinsed and washed. Lawn mowers are filled with fresh gas and fired up. Birdseed hulls are raked up from under the feeder. Flowerpots are emptied and refilled, with new potting soil mixed with gel crystals to help creative plant combinations thrive. Some clay pots are retired, smashed into 2- to 3-inch pieces and placed in the bottom of a new favorite pot to help with drainage. And the list goes on and on and on.

Your garden will speak to you; it always does in spring. Work will be done, lemonade will satisfy thirst, and before you know it, you and your garden will be transformed yet again. Happy gardeners' new year, y'all!

Horticulturist Woodbury is curator of the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, where he has worked with native plant propagation, design, and education for 25 years. He also is an adviser to the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Grow Native! program.



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