This is the month to March right outdoors and start gardening. There are weeds to pull and smother, perennials to dig and divide, plants to move, trees and shrubs to add and the soul-satisfying, instant gratification that comes from cleaning up the beds.
Don’t use the cool, damp weather as an excuse to stay indoors. English woman are known the world over for their beautiful complexions. English gardeners insist the damp air is great for the skin — so skip the facial, don’t bother with Botox and invest in more plants instead of more wrinkle creams. Your weeds and your wrinkles might both disappear if you pull on your gloves, get some mud on your boots and make March the month you start your garden engine.
Seven tips to help clean your beds:
Dress for the battle
Cool, damp days are perfect for cleaning the weeds and debris from garden beds because weed roots will pull most easily from moist soil. You’ll be more effective and more comfortable if you invest in the cotton gloves with the water-proof finger and palm prints. Buy two pair so one will always be clean and dry.
To keep these gloves waterproof be sure to cut and file any long fingernails that could poke through the thin, rubber coating.
Waterproof footwear is the next important piece of the wardrobe and if you’ll be working on any type of slope invest in hiking boots with laces. Garden clogs or muck boots are fine for small level yards.
A waterproof kneeling pad is the third piece of equipment and you can improvise by using an old shower curtain or oil cloth table cloth folded into a rectangle. If you’ll be doing a lot of kneeling then a pair of knee pads or water-proof gardening chaps with padded knees may be the most practical fashion accessory you’ll ever buy.
Prepare to collect prisoners
A 5 gallon bucket, wheel barrow or my personal favorite, a tarp or old bed sheet are all practical places to store your weeds and debris. I like to spread a tarp out flat on the lawn in front of the bed that needs cleaning. Then I can simply toss weeds, leaves and sliced up slugs over my shoulder with a good chance of hitting the mark. Once the bed is cleaned up I fold over the corners of the tarp and either lift it onto a wheelbarrow or drag it right to the compost pile.
A small hand trowel, light rake and pruning shears are my favorite tools for spring cleaning but if you’re fighting a serious invasion of weeds you may need a sharp hoe or winged-weeder, or even one of those Japanese digging knives called a hori-hori.
Start by pulling the annual shot weeds and digging out the deep rooted perennials like dandelion and buttercup. Use a light, wire rake to collect fallen leaves that are not yet decayed. This will expose any hidden slugs, snails and cut worms. Slice them up then add the remains of these pests to your compostable weeds and leaves.
A mulch is any covering for the soil that helps to seal in moisture and keep new weed seeds from blowing into your newly-cleaned bed. The thicker and more coarse the mulch the better it keeps out weeds but the less refined the look. In large beds that hold trees and shrubs, thick chunks of bark or wood chips on top of newspaper or cardboard works well. In a perennial, vegetable or flower garden a dark mulch of moo-doo, or composted dairy manure, fine bark or any weed-free compost looks great and also helps to feed the soil.
Add more plants
The secret to less work is more plants. Nature abhors a vacuum so any naked soil will soon sprout weeds. If there is a lot of space in your beds after cleaning out the weeds and debris consider adding more perennials, annuals, shrubs, groundcovers, even placing pots in the beds and adding another level of color. Local nurseries and garden centers offer hellebores, pansies and early-blooming bulbs to pop right into the ground for instant color and also perennials and groundcovers to plant now for displays later in the season.
Consider some more exciting bedmates
Early spring is the time to research, explore and learn more about what plants will do best in the different areas of your garden. Placing the right plant in the right place solves a multitude of garden problems and means less maintenance for years to come. A newly cleaned bed that holds healthy evergreens, trees or flowering shrubs is like a room with great architecture, waiting for the comforting textures and bling of more blooms. Take a photo or make notes on the color of the existing foliage plants, the amount of sun or shade and the condition of the soil. Then make this the spring of your inspired content by searching out the right accessory plants to highlight the open space in your freshly made beds.
Marianne Binetti is a syndicated columnist.