As the temperatures warm up in some parts of the country (OK, Atlanteans, I know you just got socked with half a foot of snow yesterday), weeds in the landscape may be the first to signal its time to garden again. Garden centers are starting to bring their best spring flowers out and dead-looking plants in your landscape are starting to shoot out some green buds. A quick way to get a little bit of gardening done while temperatures warm up a bit more is to fix up one of your landscape’s flower beds. You know that mass of brown material by your mailbox or front door; that’s what I’m going to help you fix up.
These Pelargoniums have damage from too many sub-freezing nights. New growth can be seen emerging from the center of the plant. Image by Gardenipedia.
STEP 1: CLEAN-UP YOUR ACT
The first step is to clean up the garden bed. Remove any weeds that may already have emerged, throw out any rocks you see lying around (unless you want them there), clean-up debris, and use your trusty pruning shears
to remove all dead growth from plants. But hold on! If you see any green on any of the “dead” growth you’re cutting, you may just be pruning dormant branches so be careful. It is vital that you clean up all the dead growth as this can harbor diseases and insects that may affect the new, green growth emerging from plants.
The Pelargonium cleaned up. Notice I left the dead leaves in there. They will eventually break down and add much needed organic matter into the soil. Image by Gardenipedia.com
STEP 2: ADDING THE GOOD STUFF.
Whenever I work in a garden bed; whether its cleaning up or adding a plant or something else, I like to take the opportunity to add compost to the area. You can add compost that you made yourself or go to your local garden center and buy the stuff in bags. If your flowers all died in winter, till the compost into the soil to a depth of about one to two feet. This will give a good growing medium to new plants. If some of your perennials are still ticking, however, you may want to top dress instead, as tilling the compost into the soil is bound to damage the roots of the plants. Compost helps add nutrients to the soil, but more importantly, it helps to give the soil a good structure (I’ll be going into this in a future post).
The flower bed with a compost top-dressing. Make sure not to cover new growth as this may suffocate the crown of the plant, killing it. Image by Gardenipedia.com
STEP 3: INDULGE IN A LITTLE SHOPPING SPREE.
This is the time to add the new flowers. If you’re doing this when it is still cold outside, make sure that the plants you choose can withstand the wide temperature fluctuations of late-winter and early-spring. I won’t be going into planting specifics in this post as each plant has its own requirements, but you can ask your local garden center for help when you buy the plants. If your flower bed still has last year’s survivors and they are coming along slowly, you can still indulge in a little shopping by giving them some companions in the new year (assuming that there is still space in the garden bed, you don’t want to suffocate the plants). The new companions will give a little show while last years plants come back to full force.
I added Osteospermum to the garden bed to grow in some of the bigger gaps between some of last year's Pelargonium. Make sure not to harm the roots of the established plants. Image by Gardenipedia.com
STEP 4: MUCLH AWAY
Add landscape mulch to your beds for a clean look, to help retain moisture in the ground, to add nutrients over time to the ground, and to to control weeds. Try to stay away from synthetic mulches, such as rubber, as it does not offer much nutritional benefits to plants. Also, stay away from mulches like Cypress mulch which are made from slow growing trees, pick mulches from tree farms or fast growing tree varieties. A 1-2″ layer of mulch is generally good. Be carefull not to suffocate new growth under the mulch. After your finish muclhing clean up your tools, put yard trash away, and enjoy your refurbished landscape bed. They should look like winter was never here.
The finished mailbox flower bed. The Pelargoniums, still barely visible in between newer plants, will take over the show in a month or two. Image by Gardenipedia.com
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments.