In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
April, 2004
Regional Report

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Pussy willows are welcome harbingers of spring ... and a reminder to do spring chores.

Spring Clean Up Awaits!

It may not feel like it right now, but spring is just around the corner. This year I'm trying to reduce the craziness, especially as the first warm days lure me outdoors and I inevitably hurt myself while leaving more mess than I get cleaned up.

A Little at a Time
I'm trying to get out for at least a half hour a day, regardless of the weather. That's enough time to clean up a portion of a bed and not get really cold. It also lets me concentrate on only one thing at a time instead of my usual habit of fiddling around with 10 or 15 things, getting all the tools out, and leaving piles of debris everywhere.

The half hour stints are showing some real improvements in the look of the garden. I simply take a wheelbarrow with me to put debris in for the compost and just park it in the garage for the next garden foray. I only empty it when it gets full or unwieldy.

Last week I spent two of my half hours pruning clematis. I have several types that engulf their fences and trellises every year, and since these varieties bloom on wood that will be produced this spring, I take great joy in cutting down the tangled mess to about 18 inches from the ground, knowing I'm not sacrificing any blossoms. If you have types that bloom on second-year wood, prune carefully or you will cut off the flower buds.

I spent a bit longer than half an hour cutting back ornamental grasses. I like to leave my grasses through the winter to enjoy the tawny color and beautiful seed heads in the snow. Cutting them back at this time of year takes five minutes, whereas cutting them later in April means carefully threading the pruners through the emerging shoots and still ending up with a few new grass blades with crew cuts.

One of my most satisfying chores is to clean up all remaining bits of iris foliage. I try to do this in December, but there is always some left at this time of year. Since the foliage harbors the eggs of iris borers, getting rid of it pretty well takes care of those nasty pests.

A chore I learned to do the hard way is cleaning up the old foliage from monkey grass. Like ornamental grasses, getting rid of this foliage at this time of year takes only a few minutes and avoids nipping the new shoots that emerge fairly early in the season. Scissors or grass shears work better for this than pruners.

My cold frame needs some attention in order to be ready to receive plants for hardening off. It's made from stacks of bricks covered with an old Plexiglas skylight cover. I need to restack the bricks, pile mulch around the outside to insulate a bit, and clean the cover.

Another satisfying task is to scrape anything that needs painting this year. Temperatures are still too cold to paint, but if I can scrape my trellises and compost bins and garden shed now, all I have to do when the weather warms is get out the paintbrush!


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