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spring cleaning your perennial garden

Spring cleaning shows off your garden at its best, allowing all the fresh shoots plenty of air and sunlight to develop with amazing speed. Of course if you have a perennial garden the flower beds will not look as perfectly manicured as they do when they are prepared for a mass annual planting. Allow plants to settle in, to find their own little space that feels just right for them, even if it doesn’t look perfectly aligned, as planned.

Some of the plants will take their time to come out, so a few spots on the flowerbeds will look bare, unless you considered layering spring bulbs on top of them. There are two advantages to that: the spring bulbs benefit from space and nutrients until the perennial plant gets out of dormancy and the ugly dried up bulb foliage that you are not supposed to remove until it dies off all by itself will not be so obvious when mixed in with the perennial leaves.

Watch the spacing and don’t crowd the plants. They look few and far between now, but will grow to at least four time their current size in less than two months. This is especially true for roses, which need plenty of room, sunlight and air movement to stay healthy. If you want happy roses, don’t plant anything large too close to them. Roses are quite content in mixed plantings, as long as they get the lion’s share of everything.

Don’t rush to dig out and dispose of plants that look dead. I almost threw away a lilac bush that took its time to adjust to a new location, a lot more time than I thought. After three months with no foliage in the middle of summer I figured that maybe it’s time for it to go. I was so happy I didn’t trash it the following spring when it was covered in flowers.

If you are in the habit of sowing your perennials directly outside (and the best time to do it is at the end of summer), remember that seeds may skip a year and surprise you. If it looks like a flowering plant and not a weed, don’t pull it. Some are very easy to recognize because of their distinctive foliage (delphiniums and lupines for instance), but others look so generic that they can be easily mistaken for the usual wildlife growies. One example that comes to mind is the Siberian wallflower, a beautiful orange fragrant biennal that survives every hardship but the overzealous weed pulling of the well meaning gardener.

Your pride and joy will look very unappealing early in spring: I’m talking about the roses. Don’t forget to prune the ones that need pruning (please see “How to Prune Roses”), but even after it is neatly spruced up a rose bush without leaves doesn’t look very pretty.

Pampas grasses need breathing room and won’t push up vigorous growth until you trim them, at which time they will become a crinkly stump. Take the time to divide the clumps if they look too big or they started hollowing out in the middle.

The flowering shrubs will still look pretty much not alive (yey brown leafless sticks!) and the large foliage plants the garden relies on for structure (hostas, peonies, elephant ears) will not come out of the ground for a while longer.

Even if the weather is wonderful, don’t rush to transplant your young perennials outdoors. Even the hardiest plants won’t survive a frost as just started little seedlings. Check the date of the last frost in your area and wait until then.

I guess that pretty much covers it. I hope the squirrels and rabbits spared a few hyacinths, crocuses and glory of the snow to accent your daffodil border and that the earliest blooming magnolias will make up for the apparent barrenness of the perennial garden.