I love all the housecleaning and organizing programs on television.
It's interesting to see how someone can go into a horribly untidy house and within a day or two, make the place look as though it could be featured in a magazine. I found from watching several different programs that the basic concept is the same. Take everything you own, put it into a huge pile and sort it all according to its usefulness.
I've done this in my own house when things got a little overwhelming in a spare bedroom or closet. I emptied the offending area in the center of the living room floor where it could no longer be ignored and had to be dealt with, and quickly. Some items went into a box specified for a rummage sale. If I wasn't planning on having the sale myself, there are plenty of churches more than willing to take donated items for their own sales, and I get satisfaction knowing all my discarded stuff will go to a good cause. Another box is labeled ''toss.'' These are things that no one else could possibly want, including me. The last box is labeled ''keep.'' These are things I can't yet bear to part with. Sometimes you have to be tough with yourself and try not to put everything in the box labeled ''keep.''
What does all of this have to do with gardening, you ask? Well, spring is traditionally the time to clean up the garden as well and you don't have to wait for moderate temperatures to do much of it. You can use the same cleaning and organizing concept in your garden as in your house.
Take a look at someone else's yard and you can usually get an idea of what's going on inside the house as well. Are there weeds, unruly grasses and out of control plants creating a jungle? Expect to find the same sort of clutter on the inside. Is the lawn neatly groomed with flowers lining the walks and driveway in straight rows, not a leaf out of place? Chances are the inside is meticulous as well.
Personally, I like to keep my house and my garden somewhere in between the two extremes. When the temperatures outside are barely hovering above 20 degrees, stay inside and tackle that closet. But when they start rising above 40, put on your best worn-out jeans and sweatshirt, grab your pruners and spring clean the garden. Here are a few places to start:
In the perennial bed, you will want to trim off the dead stalks of flowering plants that were left behind last fall. Clean up all debris that accumulated beneath the plants including leaves and twigs that were blown around with the winter winds. Make yourself a nice pile on a big tarp or in a wheelbarrow.
Remove all the dead and damaged leaves from forsythia, azalea, lilac, spirea, clematis and viburnum, but DON'T PRUNE. It can't be stressed enough that while many of your plants need a good pruning right now - and I'll tell you which ones - the only clean up you should be doing on the spring flowering shrubs is removing obviously dead and diseased sections. If you prune away branches and trim the plant to a new shape or size, you will be cutting away this year's flowers as these plants set their buds on last year's growth. The best time to prune these plants is right after they bloom and the flowers have dropped or faded. This will encourage new growth this year and more flower buds next year.
Shrubs you should be pruning; however, are those that bloom later in the season, such as Buddleia (butterfly bush), Russian sage, tall sedum, smoke tree and beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis). These plants produce flowers on growth that will emerge this year.
According to Barb Pierson, nursery manager at While Flower Farm in Connecticut, pruning contributes to healthy growth. Pierson advises cutting branches one-quarter inch above a bud that faces outward to promote growth in that direction. Pruning will likely cause the plant to send out new growth to compensate and you don't want those new branches growing inward, crossing each other and clogging up the inside of the plant leaving little room for air to circulate.
Trees and shrubs in the rose family are best when pruned in late winter while the plants are still dormant, Pierson says. These plants include apple trees, crabapples, mountain ash, hawthorne and cotoneaster.
This is also the time to shear back ornamental grasses to about a third of their original growth. Large mounds can be easily sheared by tying them up in a bundle with garden twine or bungee cords. Smaller mounds can be simply shorn with hedge trimmers or hand pruners. New growth will begin quickly when the weather starts to warm up so get them cut back as soon as you can.
Other trees and shrubs, such as maple, birch, walnut, elm and honeylocust, should be pruned when they leaf out, Pierson said, to avoid sap running.
I prefer to wait until the buds start bursting on shrub and climbing roses before I begin pruning those plants. In many cases, not all branches will have survived the winter, but the only way to really know for sure which ones those are is to wait and see if they produce new growth in spring.
Spring cleaning the garden is equally as important as spring cleaning the house. Do both and you will be much happier with the results.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.