B. Rosie Lerner
Purdue Extension


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Spring Forward in the Garden

Although recent weather may have delayed some of your planting plans, it's time to spring into action in the garden.  Most gardeners will find there are still some chores to finish up from fall and winter.

If you applied winter protective mulch to plants such as strawberries and newly planted perennials, be sure to pull that mulch back away from the plants as they emerge.  But keep that mulch close by, just in case spring freezes threaten to nip back the tender young shoots.  The average date of last frost is still quite a few weeks away. 

Carefully remove protective cones or soil mounds from tender roses. Tree wrap and plastic bark protectors that were applied in fall to young, thin-barked trees should also be removed now to avoid injuring the bark from overheating.

One of the best features of ornamental grasses is their graceful texture and rustling sound throughout the winter.  But the old dead stems need to be cut back close to the ground to make way for the new crop of green foliage.  Other herbaceous perennial plants may also need to have last years dead stems removed if it wasn't done last fall.

Some woody flowering shrubs actually perform better if they are cut back as if they were herbaceous plants, at least in our area of the Midwest.  It may seem drastic, but the reason is that they produce their flower buds on current season's growth. This type of pruning can be done any time during the dormant season, but is best accomplished before the new growth begins. Cut the plants all the way back to a few inches above the ground, making sure there are several plump healthy buds on the remain stems. Butterfly bush (Buddleia), bluebeard (Caryopteris), Russian sage (Perovskia), and late-flowering Spirea should be pruned in this manner.

Dead foliage can be composted for recycling back to the soil later.  Shredding or chipping the material first will help it break down more quickly.  And speaking of compost, don't forget to give the contents of your compost pile a few turns this spring, especially if its been sitting still all winter.  The center of good-sized pile should be quite warm, due to heat generated while organic material is decomposing.  A pitchfork and/or shovel should be used to pull the finished compost out of the center of the pile and push outer, intact material into the center. 

Shredded or chipped woody stems can also be used as mulch for weed suppression and moisture retention.  Spring is a good time to add or replenish mulch around trees, shrubs and perennial beds, but be careful not to bury soon-to-emerge herbaceous perennials too deeply.  If you're not sure just where those slumbering plants are, it might be wiser to wait until they start to emerge before snuggling mulch around them. 


Writer: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Olivia Maddox