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View from the Garden: Spring Cleanup Tips for a Great Outdoors

After pruning ornamental grasses and roses, tree and shrub pruning comes next. I prune my own trees but suggest that clients use a reliable arborist for their trees.

My team prunes shrubs and A LOT of hydrangeas. At this time of year I prune Annabells, Incrediballs, Pee Gees Tardivas and Limelights. My preferred method of pruning these shrubs is to cut them to within one or two buds from the ground. I have had great success with this method. The plants regrow into larger plants than the previous year and produce large flowers. This method sometimes frightens clients and I restrain myself but the results are defiantly better with my method.

Pee gees, tardivas and limelights are often grown as “trees.” I prune these by removing dead, injured or diseased branches (the primary pruning rule) and by thinning branches and any that are growing into the interior of the plant. Sometimes larger branches need to be removed to keep the shape of the “head” maintained. Then I cut the branches to two buds from its beginning point. This sometimes frightens clients but then I point put the length of last year’s growth, which is 3-4’ on the larger branches.

These are the hydrangeas that can be pruned in spring. If you prune others you will be cutting off this year’s flowers. It’s tempted to prune other shrubs after having such a rewarding time with the hydrangeas—but be careful.

I cut buddleia down to 2-3 buds from the ground unless the plant is old and has not been cut. Then I begin slowly removing old branches and reducing remaining ones. One must know if the plant blooms on “old” wood or “new” wood, meaning, were the flower buds for this year produced last year or will they be produced this year? If you don’t know, research is necessary.

After shrub pruning comes cleaning the rest of the garden—cutting back perennials and removing remaining annual residue and weeds. I suspect that the crop of weeds this spring will be substantial due to the warm winter. I don’t use herbicide, so we will be pulling and hoeing.

If your beds have edges, this is the time to refresh them. At several estates where I work, other trades people cut the edges and often they are VERY deep, perhaps 4-5.” An edge needs to be cut below the grass and just enough to define the line. It doesn’t need to be a trough!

Dividing and transplanting can be done at this time, except for peonies and bearded iris. Roses are difficult to transplant and some don’t survive, so be very sure transplanting is necessary and realize that the plant might not survive.

The cover crop you planted in your vegetable garden last year should be turned over now. Turn pieces completely over. They will need to lie about two weeks before the garden can be worked.

If you didn’t plant a cover crop, compost can be applied now. I don’t dig mine in, but leave it on top of the soil to be worked by the soil critters. Worm castings are a very good soil amendment to any garden at this time of year. I don’t like to use fertilizer preferring compost and worm castings unless a client insists.

While you are doing your spring cleanup, I hope you have a lot of spring bulbs blooming to enjoy. I am taking mental notes; we should all make actual ones on paper, listing the ones to order late in the summer for next year.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067 or visit

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