Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cinderella in the Garden

I hate cleaning. I mean what’s the point? I sweep, dust, scour and scrub………and a day later it looks as though I haven’t done a thing! Thankfully cleaning the garden is more rewarding. A few hours at this time of year will set you in good stead for the next 6 months.

On those rare mild spring days, take the opportunity to get outside and do a few easy garden chores. You’ll get exercise, fresh air and your garden will be healthier too.

Time for a Slug-fest.
If you never did get around to raking the leaves in fall they’ll be a mushy, slimy mess by now. That makes them the perfect hiding place for slugs and snails – and believe me they are out in abundance already.  These leaves also smother any delicate plants underneath so I use a narrow bamboo rake to gently pull the leaves off any emerging perennials such as ferns and hostas as well as freeing other low growing plants such as primroses. Watch out for spring bulbs starting to peek through though!

When leaves fall on top of woody, deciduous shrubs such as barberry and weigela they can get stuck in the twiggy structure. Although this doesn’t harm the shrub it looks a mess and will spoil the appearance of the fresh foliage. Gently remove these leaves with your hands where possible, being careful not to damage any new buds. In borders mainly planted with hardy shrubs and evergreens the leaves can be left in place to die down if you prefer. Some leaves such as the big leaf maple don’t decompose easily however so they will continue to look messy for a long time.

I gather up all the leaves and add them to my compost bin. Failing that a black plastic bag with a few holes poked in the sides will do or a brown paper yard waste bag, although the latter may decompose before the leaves do! In larger gardens consider building a simple cage of chicken wire hidden amongst large trees. Then you can just ‘rake and dump’ without wheelbarrowing them to a compost bin.

Protect your roses by planning ahead. This is
one of my favorites, the fragrant
Graham Thomas.

Leaves which I don’t compost are those which may be diseased, such as those from roses or apple trees. These often harbor fungal spores so I gather them up and dispose of them in the yard waste before adding a good layer of fresh compost or arborist  chips under these bushes. The spores cannot ‘climb’ through this mulch so the new growth is protected.

Grasses are a wonderful addition to the garden, adding movement, late season interest, fine texture and varying height. Check to see if new growth is showing and if so cut down those big tall grasses to 6-10”. Shorter grasses can take a haircut to an inch. However don’t get too pruner-happy. Leave hardy fuchsias, Russian sage (Perovskia) and hyssop (Agastache) alone for another month. Those dried stalks will protect the plant crown from a fatal freeze.

Switchgrass 'Shenandoah' (Panicum) reaches
4-5' and turns a brilliant red in fall.
Design by Tory Galloway

It’s time to dig up the dead! Do you have sad looking Brussels sprouts and bolted leeks still in the vegetable garden? Dig them up and get those beds ready for a fresh start.

Finally get out the slug bait. I use Sluggo Plus, an organic product which kills slugs and earwigs yet is safe around pets, children and your vegetables. You’ll be amazed at how fast these slippery creatures detect a hosta emerging from its winter sleep. I swear they must run across the soil just to munch a hole right through the plant tip, totally wrecking the beautiful leaves. Just one slug attack and the whole plant is spoilt for the rest of the season. Spare them no mercy and go on the attack!

So find your work boots, dust off your garden tools and get outside. Watch the robins searching for worms and listen to the frogs singing their amorous chorus while you snip and tidy. Much more rewarding than washing the kitchen floor (again).


  1. I can't stop staring at that slug. You took a very... fine photo of it. I have some in my own garden, but I've never thought slugs can be so enticing to look at. I don't know how you did it, Karen, but great job!


  2. I wish I could take credit for that shot. It was a non-copyright image one I found on the internet and I agree it is fabulous! I would consider it cute if I didn't know how much damage it can do.

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  4. I love your Switchgrass 'Shenandoah' photo. You have a beautiful backyard. I am inspired to plant trees, flowers, grass etc. Thanks for the tips though.

    long island tree care

    1. I wish I could take credit for that switchgrass combo but I can only take credit for photographing it and copying the idea in my own garden!

      Massing the grasses is key if you have the space, to really create drama.

      Have fun!


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