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Don’t Clean Up Your Garden (Yet)

The sunshine and warmer weather beckons us outdoors. We walk around the yard and see the effects winter has left behind. Knowing it’s not quite time for spring growth, we eagerly want to be prepared to see it. So we start spring cleaning. But wait! Walk the yard, look for signs of spring, and keep the maintenance simple.

Walk the Yard

Yes, you can clear fallen, dead branches from trees and any plastic trash the winds have blown. Neighborhood leaves tend to pile up in corners around the house and get caught in low-lying shrubs and perennial beds. Some natural debris left around plants shelters them from the cold yet to come.

Leaf litter decomposes and enriches the soil, ensuring plant growth. We even recommend adding a mix of leaf mulch or garden compost to the soil when planting new garden beds as it helps amend our Illinois clay-like soil. So take it easy on clean up. A few fallen leaves are good for the soil.

Perennial Manager, Kyle Lambert recently attended a presentation at Morton Arboretum given by author Jessica Walliser. She suggests waiting to cut back and clean your garden until daytime temperatures are 50 degrees for 7-10 days in a row. If the urge to clean is strong, you can cut back your plants but loosely pile the debris and wait to do the raking until we’ve had 7-10 days of 50-degree weather. Our Landscape Manager, Mara Saba adds “Removing debris too early takes away food sources for nesting birds.” Overwintering insects (whether it be egg, adult or any stage between) could be in stems of plants that have been left up for the winter, in the leaf debris on the ground, in the bark of a tree or many other places.

Look for Signs of Spring

SnowdropsDid you plant some bulbs in the fall for early spring color? Crocus and Galanthus (also known as Snowdro

ps) are already shining brightly in our Learning Gardens. We recommend planting bulbs with spring-flowering perennials. As the perennial foliage emerges, it covers the limp, yellow, spent bulb foliage. One plant’s energy is being restored to the bulb while the other plant springs forth. This companion planting works beautifully between spring-flowering bulbs and early blooming perennials such as Brunnera, Bleeding Hearts, and Hellebores.

Keep the Maintenance Simple

With deciduous trees bare of leaves, view their structure and prune as needed before they leaf out. Remove dead and diseased branches or branches that are growing out of form. Eric Gunderson, our Tree & Shrub Manager, reminds us that any spring-blooming shrubs like forsythia, crabapples, or lilacs should not be pruned until after the buds have bloomed. He likes to prune oaks and elms in the dead of winter to allow the cuts to callous. The Morton Arboretum advises the best time to prune trees is between mid-February and early May. More pruning advice from The Morton Arboretum.

Who knew insects were such a necessary ingredient to beautiful gardens and enjoyable views of butterflies and birds in our yards? Enjoy time outside while you tidy up a bit, providing shelter and food for the caterpillars of those butterflies. Birds will sing in gratitude in a yard that hosts all sorts of insects for food. Be patient. Spring will be here soon!

Click for additional spring yard maintenance resources from The Morton Arboretum and the University of Illinois Extension