Helen Grundmann Garden Design

Spring Garden Clean Up Advice

snowdrops early spring bulbsWinter away.
Winter away.
You may no longer stay.
Springtime is on her way.
Winter away.

Here are some helpful spring garden clean up tips to get your gardens off on the right foot this season.

march weather comes in like a lionItching to get into your garden? When to get started….

March has been a very ‘Lion’ month. Now that the weather is finally starting to warm up outside, it’s time to get your early spring clean up done. This is the first step in preparing your garden for a healthy, vibrant season. Different parts of your garden will begin waking up earlier than others depending upon where the beds are located, snow load or the amount of sun exposure.

As anxious as we are to dive into those beds, I can’t stress enough the importance of waiting for the right time. You want to get going early since waiting too long makes it more difficult to avoid damaging tender new growth and emerging bulb foliage. But avoid working in beds with wet soil as it causes compaction and ruins soil structure. Especially in clay soils like ours, compacting wet soil creates anaerobic (low oxygen) conditions, which will set up a host of growing problems throughout the season for your plants.

[Do the soil readiness test to be sure.]

Old Farmer’s Almanac:

– Grab a handful of your garden soil.  If you can form it into a ball, the soil is too wet for planting. (Chances are the seeds will rot.) If it crumbles through your fingers, it’s ready for planting.

– Here’s another soil test. Make a ball of soil and drop it. If the ball crumbles, your garden is ready for seeds. If it holds its shape or breaks into two clumps, it’s still too wet for planting.

For more visit:

spring bulbs emergingDo you know where your feet are? Observe and tread lightly….

Now is the time to be a tenderfoot in the garden beds. In your desire to get to the broken boxwood limbs you see and the winter burn on the tall laurels in back, avoid crushing and snapping off the delicate new perennial shoots and bulbs covered with leaves in the front portion of the bed.

Look for vole runways in your beds and lawns. Pull back mulch around shrubs and ornamentals to check for chewing and girdling around the root flare. Voles can completely girdle the cambium tissue, essentially cutting off the vascular flow of a tree or shrub, leading to death or decline.

Is it time to call in a professional? What to prune when….

Under the almost constant heavy weight of snow and ice this winter, there are likely to be small branches and limbs that need to be pruned out. Using pruners that I trust you sanitized and sharpened this winter, make nice clean pruning cuts. Improper cuts will become entry points for insect and disease vectors.

In a repeat of last winter, I’m seeing a lot of winter burn, especially on hollies, laurels, and skimmia. While snow provides insulation, prolonged below-freezing temperatures and wind have taken a toll on many broadleaf evergreens and perennials. To cut or not to cut requires an artful eye and skilled artist. We offer pruning services using proper horticultural techniques.

early spring pruningWhat lies beneath? Uncovering new signs of life….

Before jumping in with a rake, carefully pull back leaf mulch that has gathered around the base of shrubs and perennials to promote airflow and allow sunlight to penetrate to new growth. Dead foliage from sedum, hellebores, lamb’s ears and ornamental grasses, for example, needs to be trimmed back and removed.

“Yo Ho Heave Ho”? Dealing with frost heave….

The back and forth fluctuation in temperatures during winter often causes some perennials to heave up. Once the ground has fully thawed and nighttime temperatures are above freezing, we need to help tuck them back in properly.

spring fertilization organic compostIs anyone hungry? Feeding the soil….

In early spring as soil temperatures move towards the 50 degree mark, soil microbes and plants start waking up….and they’re famished! During the fall, nutrient movement is downward into the roots to be stored over winter. In early spring, the flow reverses. Feed the soil by applying a thin layer of organic compost to garden beds, or fertilize and amend with organic minerals following the results of a quality soil analysis.

before and after spring garden clean upAre we there yet? Tidying around the edges….

Establishing a nicely defined edge looks tidy and accentuates the bed lines. Even before you prune new spring growth in a month or two and put down a fresh layer of organic mulch, it’s important to re-establish boundaries in early spring. This helps hold existing mulch in and keeps grass where it belongs. Then, you can sit back and anticipate the unfolding grandeur.

If all this sounds daunting, and you’re resisting donning your rubbers boots and picking up your pruners and rake, call me and I’ll be happy to help.

Contact Helen Grundmann Garden Design



  1. Therese Johnston says:

    Hey Helen

    Hope all is well with you! Your dream job is awesome…so jealous!

    So, how do I keep my tulips from being eaten? Not sure if it’s squirrels or deer. I’ve tried hair and moth balls – didn’t work. Anything else? I’ve heard planting daffodils around them might help but haven’t gotten around to that.


    • Helen Grundman says:

      Hi Therese!
      If you think it is the squirrels try Critter Scram. We use a variety of deer repellents to keep the deer off. Try Bobbex or Deer Out. Both are made from natural ingredients although the Deer Out smells sooo much better! In spring, plants need to be sprayed more often because they are always putting on new growth. If you can spray them weekly during tulip season you have a chance to see them bloom. It’s worth it if you can. Whether it is a bold swath of red tulips or a Mardi Gras mix shaking it up, a mass of tulips trumpeting spring is a sight to behold.

  2. Nice Article Helen.
    I would always prefer nonnative and noninvasive plants in my garden because they don’t require any chemicals or irrigation more often.

    • Helen Grundmann says:

      Hi James, although you may not be from the area, you may find some interesting information about New Jersey native plants at: Their next meeting happens to be this Wednesday, November 18th at 7:00pm at the Bethlehem Courthouse in Bethlehem, NJ.

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