Thoughts on Spring Cleanup

Monday, April 6, 2020

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Facebook about not tidying the garden until the temperature consistently reaches 10c.

While I agree with the intent, like most things, we can dig a bit deeper into the issue.

  • My first thought is that, by the time the temperature reaches a consistent 10c, many of the plants in the garden are growing, at which point removing old stems can damage the new growth.
  • My second thought is that cleaning the garden shouldn’t involve removing any of the organic matter anyway, its what your soil life feeds on and nests is.
  • My third thought is that I need to get the organic matter down to ground level for it to protect the soil, and that is hard to do once the new growth starts to fill in.

So, what does all of this mean when it comes to spring cleanup?

The Garden Before Cleanup

What I do is:

Wait until the soil starts to dry out. If you are leaving footprints, leave it alone, it takes a long time to soil to recover from compaction.

Pick up all of the garbage that has blown into the yard over the winter and any of the ‘gifts’ left by neighbourhood cats and dogs.

Remove matted leaves from any of the tiny plants that will suffer from the cover. My curly onion for example, would get quite stressed if I didn’t pull the mat of maple leaves off of it.

Manually (no power tools like lawnmowers or leaf shredders, they chop up the plant material and the critters) cut up the stems that are still standing and drop them to the ground as mulch. I generally use secateurs and chop the stems into 6 to 8” long sections. They will soon disappear under the new foliage and they will provide a great habitat layer for lots of critters, while also protecting and feeding the soil life.

Prune any semi woody perennials (Russian sage, lavender, hyssop etc.) and chop and drop those stems as well.

And that’s it. No leaf blowers, shredders or other highly disruptive activities. No organic matter removed from the ecosystem. Lots of habitat space among the chopped stems. Plants that are all set for the next growing season.

The garden after tidying