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Ivy growing around a dogwood.

March is the perfect time to do the garden clean-up work gives you a chance at managing the weeds and downright invasive plants that will soon be trying to take over your entire garden.  If you wait until May when it’s nice and warm you’ll already have missed the boat, which means that ivy and other weeds will WIN OUT.  Doing this early also lessens the chances you’ll step on new emerging plants as you’re working.

Okay, here’s what needs to be done in your borders:

  • Remove all the leaves, fallen twigs and branches. Even if you did this in the fall, more have probably blown your way or fallen.
  • Cut off the dead foliage of perennials that are above ground.
  • Dig out all the weeds you can see.
  • Remove every shred of ivy, especially the underground parts.  The ground’s nice and wet now – this is your chance!
  • Cut back ornamental grasses and the dead stems of perennials if you left them up for the winter (which is a good idea, for wildlife) to a few inches high.
  • Use a cultivator or gloved hand to loosen the mulch, acorns and other dried plant matter covering the ground around your shrubs and perennials. This allows water and air to more easily penetrate to the roots.

You may be wondering: Why not leave the dead leaves in the border?  Good question, and for some gardens and some types of leaves, that’s an option, as long as they decompose over the winter.   But if your borders, like mine, are still covered with dead leaves, there are lots of reasons to remove them:   So you can see and destroy the bad plants.  So you can tend your garden.  So you can enjoy seeing your plants, not just dead leaves.

In a ecological restoration project, dead leaves are great – the more the better.   But around our homes where we’re battling a growing army of weeds, dead leaves are most useful after they’ve been composted for a season or two.

Next,  it’ll be time to mulch.  With the leaf litter gone you’ll be able to spot the bare patches of soil that, if left uncovered, are vulnerable to erosion and wind-borne seeds.   Covering soil with 1-2 inches of a good organic mulch is arguably the single most important yearly maintenance task of the eco-friendly gardener.

by Susan Harris


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