With daffodils just breaking ground, it is time for spring clean-up and bed maintenance. Clean-up, easier to accomplish before perennials emerge, is essential for health and appearance of the beds. Fall leaves and debris give an open invitation for over-wintering pests and diseases. Preventing a problem is easier than trying to cure one.
The tools needed are hand pruners and a leaf rake, preferably a plastic one as it will cause less damage to plant crowns. Also, a smaller hand-held leaf rake makes getting into tight places a breeze.
First, remove large debris and enough leaves to see where your plants are located. Don’t step on plants. Pull out any dead annuals or weeds. With pruners, cut back dead perennial flower stalks to just above the ground. Do not trim spring-blooming plants until after they have bloomed.
With clipping done, use your leaf rake to carefully remove all the leaves and debris. If the plants were disease free last summer, it is okay to put everything into your compost pile. No compost pile? Use your mower to mulch what you can and use the debris as a soil amendment, mulch in flower beds, or covering for a garden path. If the plants were diseased, it is best to bag them and dispose of them.
With rake, carefully remove old mulch. If the bottom layer is readily decaying, remove only the top layer. Place this mulch on a tarp for reuse. With mulch removed, apply a thin covering of compost. It will supply nutrients the plants need to get a head start. Bagged compost is readily available at stores. Do not apply fertilizer at this time. It encourages new growth sensitive to freeze damage.
If you have no automatic sprinkler, this is an opportune time to put down a soaker hose, which is inexpensive and provides efficient watering for your beds.
The best choices for new mulch are cedar, hardwood, or cypress, although for beds where high acidity is needed, you should use pine bark or pine straw. Before applying the mulch, lay down newspaper 6 to 8 sheets thick and dampen them to hold them in place. This will help with weed control, and paper will decompose over the season. Do not use the slick, colored pages. Next, spread the reusable old mulch and top it with new mulch.
Your task is complete. The health potential of the plants has been improved, and the beds look great.
Linda Sargent, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service