Hort Q&A: Spring cleaning — what should I be doing now?

Carla Smith, horticulture educator
Pottawatomie County Extension Service

This time of year, it is easy to want to venture outside.  The sunshine is warm and the breeze is cool.  Winter is fading fast and we are mentally ready for spring and moving forward.  The landscapes are already starting to pop with perennials and bulbs appearing fast.  We do have some clean up from the epic winter blast we just had.  Many of our broadleaf shrubs, like holly, boxwood and photinia have taken a hard hit.  The leaves may be brown and drop, but they may not be gone.  There are lateral buds along the stem that may or may not begin to grow.  Before we jump the gun and remove those, give nature some time to recover.  They may surprise us and leaf out in the coming weeks.  Several shrubs at our office are already beginning to do this.  No doubt, we may lose some, but hold off on any pruning or removal until we know what life is still present.  You may be tempted to fertilize these, hold off on that until you see growth developing.  A slower growth process will be helpful because these plants are already stressed.

Crape myrtles are marginally hardy in some winters, so we do expect some damage on them.  We do not recommend hard pruning or topping of crape myrtle unless the freeze kills them back.  Again, time will tell.  Thinning can be done now but wait to see if they leaf out normally.  Many varieties of crape myrtle are available, so it is important to select one that fits the site, this greatly reduces the need for pruning.  

I have noticed around town that many ornamental grasses are still standing.  If you haven’t cut back your ornamental grasses and perennials by now, this would be a good time to finish this spring-cleaning chore. New growth will begin to emerge soon on some grasses and perennials; waiting until new growth is several inches high will make it difficult to remove dead foliage without damaging the new growth. In addition, old leaves may be harboring diseases and insects from last season that could infect new growth, if not removed from the garden. Removing old leaves also allows plenty of sunlight in to warm the soil and encourage new growth.

The ornamental grass bed at our office was cleaned up on March 6 by the master gardeners.  It is a good example to look at if you have questions.  Our extension office garden is located at 14001 Acme Road, just east of Hwy 177, at Acme and MacArthur.  The demonstration garden is open from daylight to dark.  Come visit the garden! 

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