Spring Cleaning in the Garden

Spring Cleaning

This week is hanging in the fifties, fine weather for moving the agenda of spring forward. Early bulbs are coming out, and forsythia is getting ready to burst forth once again. This is the ideal time to transplant  that tree or shrub that has gotten too big for its britches or that specimen plant that somehow got buried over the years.

Like many folks who are less planned about the development of their gardens than perhaps they should be, my garden is a collection of plants that have arrived in layers of inspiration. When I first worked this garden, I spent a lot of time opening it up and adding in the occasional weeping white pine or white Birch as accents. A layer of perennials  introduced by my wife Katherine were planted, and a year or two later, the next layer of rose, spirea, and some  barberry GASP -which has made it to the invasive species list. Of course the weeping white pine is now hiding in the back where no one can see it, there are perennials hiding behind shrubs, and shrubs that are edging out more perennials with their formidable development.

In some gardens, this sort of insane layering where smaller plants end up behind larger plants happens all at once due to folks hiring landscapers who have limited knowledge of plant development. This can be easily remedied of course by hiring companies that have a strong background in landscape, or garden design, and horticulture. 

In other cases,  it’s a matter of plans changing over the years, or maybe too many gardeners in one garden,  and the garden taking a new direction, again and again(and again). Regardless of the cause, inevitably many gardens end up with poor layering, and plants playing peek-a-boo out from under massively over grown shrubs.

Fortunately, spring is a terrific time to transplant just about anything and though I would love to tell you the best thing to do is make a plan of where everything will go and have at it, much like re-arranging furniture, it’s a more intuitive process then that. Yes, if you have some key pieces you want to show off, (like a weeping white pine for example), you will want to identify a focal point in the garden for that plant, but for many shrubs and perennials it really is a combination of their needs in terms of light, water, and soil, and where they will look best when layered properly. Some plants may need to go entirely. You have to have guts, Give it away, Use it, Throw it away, Sell it.

Pre- planning involves first identifying plants you want to show off, specimens, or plants that have colors you want to “punch”. Where will they go? What are the focal points, or areas that are seen from key garden entry, windows, and/or seen from multiple locations? Also, what will the proper sequence of plants be in terms of layering or height order? What textures do you want to combine or set off? For example, large leaf plants with fine leaf plants, or blue foliage plants near burgundy leafed ones. What is the bloom order and how do you want to group the plants by bloom time if this is an issue? Last of all, what’s left over and how will you use these plants. These are usually filler plants sort of like angel’s breath in a rose flower arrangement. Pre planning can be fairly loose, and you are allowed to change your mind as you go through the process.

Next, the fun part, dig it all up carefully preserving the root balls. You can leave the root balls loose if  you won’t  be moving them to many times . I like to lay all the plants on a tarp so I can see them separately from the landscape and so that I done trash the lawn in the process. Spend some time placing the plants like you would furniture. Honestly I will do a lot of my “pre” planning while I’m actually digging plants up since this is a time consuming process, and I can reminisce on what the material did last year while I dig. If your soil is not so good, this might be a  good time to mix some cow manure or composted material you have been making( since you are a dedicated reader and do everything suggested in these writings) .

Once you have an idea of where your plants are going, plant away and be sure to take this opportunity to prune back material as disturbing the roots will force the plants to re-focus their energies more on root development this spring. If you want to learn more about soil culture, composting and compost tea, there will be a “Tea Party”   at the Pelham Art Center on March 14th sponsored by Greener by Design promoting education in this area. Call 914 637 9870 if you are interested in attending. Leslie of Lola’s Tea House will also do a presentation on teas and be serving some sample tea’s there.

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