I've spent hours on your site recently. There's just too
much when all I need to know is what to do right now. Can I cut a
butterfly bush down? Is it too early to fertilize? Should I dig up
the overgrown hostas or can I just chop a piece out of each? - J.K.
Just the facts:
Yes. No. Digging's best, but chopping's okay.
All of what we're doing right now
We are doing all of the things listed below, now in
The list is in order for efficiency. We work in this sequence
unless time's short. If we have to put a rush on, we skip whole
*We don't skip essentials. Our must-do's are
Note that most things on the list are optional. We try to do it
all but don't cry over options.
For explanations how and why, including "So, what if I don't,"
A) Follow the links in the list.
B) Post a question on the Forum where we and about 400 gardeners
keep an eye out for each other. Include photos whenever you have
them. Somebody/bodies on the Forum can help you with specifics.
Start at the top. If time's short, skip to essentials marked
1. Cut winter's twigs
Thin or cut down what was there for winter twig color. Examples:
Redtwig dogwood, blue willow, golden willow, Kerria. Take
a look at photos
2. Cut summer blooming wood
Cut summer-blooming and grown-for-leaf woody plants. This
de-bulks them and encourages vigorous young wood. Raze them if you
like. Examples: Hybrid tea roses, "groundcover" roses, butterfly
bush (Buddleia davidii), barberry, dappled willow, dwarf
spirea, late blooming Clematis, panicle Hydrangea
(H. paniculata), Potentilla, rose of Sharon
(Hibiscus syriacus), Russian sage (Perovskia),
smokebush (Cotinus), snowball Hydrangea (H.
arborescens), lavender and cooking sage. See some cuts
to follow our lead, demonstrated on butterfly bush, climbing
rose, KnockOut rose and panicle Hydrangea. Also shown in
Sage says cut weak wood
hard and many Clematis pruning articles including
Growing Concerns #511 and #611.
* 3. Cut out damaged and dead wood
*Cut out damaged and dead wood and shoots. A look at some of
what we've found so far: A) So many rabbit
chewed and snow-bent canes this winter! B)
Hellebores fooled then frozen this January; such a
pity. C) Continuing dieback on Japanese maples
ravaged by last year's frosts and drought.
* 4. Learn; head off trouble
*Learn. Notice what's unusual and make notes or
photos. Identify the issue when you can so you can treat
it wisely. For instance, look at the lilac broom and oak cankers we
found while pruning.
5. Cut down perennial debris
last year's perennial debris that's unlikely to go away on its
own in a reasonable time. Examples: Ornamental grasses, peony
stalks, sedum flower stalks, coneflower stems, decrepit coral bell
leaves and ugly on-their-way-out hellebore foliage.
6. Prune to thin and shape trees/shrubs
Prune trees/shrubs to thin and shape. Some common shrubs
that need this: Lilac, honeysuckle (shrub and vine) and
7. Prune to restrict size of trees/shrubs
restrict size. Best before budbreak, or wait until late summer.
Examples: Spruce, pine, arborvitae.
8. Prune the fast, wild wood
Prune to remove excessive leafy growth that will hide spring
flowers. Examples: Wisteria, quince,
9. Streamline debris handling
Handle debris only once. As it comes to hand, prep it for the
first yard waste pick-up or ready it for re-use. Pile clippings
neatly to be tied. Bundle a grass or shrub before
you cut, if you're razing it.
10. Enjoy early flowers
of spring blooming shrubs in a vase. Change the water daily and
keep it in the sun.
11. Renew evergreen decorations
Leave decorative cut evergreens in
place until the weather's firmly settled. Just remove holiday
ribbons. Then nestle cool season flowers such as pansy there.
12. Rake, but leave the leaves
Rake only to remove gross debris. Leave the leaves! They'll be covered
by new growth or decomposed in a few weeks.
Fertilize with a slow release organic product. Especially
important where the subsoil is paler than the topsoil.
*Edge: Separate what's in from what's outside a
bed, anywhere lawn or another root-spreading colony surrounds a
bed. We like to cut an edge on our beds..
*Weed. Lawn or bed, the game is the same. Begin
with known hot spots. Forget deterrents such as mulch or
pre-emergent weedkiller if the weed's already growing. Dig, smother
or kill the likes of: Annual chickweed and corn
speedwell that sprout in late fall or winter thaws, or
perennials such as sour sorrel and thistle.
*16. Insure proper watering
*Check water issues: Do a drainage test if you
never have. Run sprinklers to reset coverage and timing.
17. Divide and renew perennials
Lift, divide and re-set old and overgrown perennials. Or if
time's short, chop and lift only the excess. (Include the old
center in what you chop out. Be aware that plant will "migrate" --
end up centered on the remainder.) Discard at least 3/4 of anything
overgrown. Add an equal volume of compost or humus-rich soil to the
spot. Examples of perennials that need frequent division to remain
healthy and attractive: Bee balm, daisy, tall phlox, yarrow, and
any variety that reverts or sports to become what it
18. Add new
Add new plants. Always! Foxtail lily is on some lists this
*19. Improve the soil
Improve the soil at every chance, with compost to replace
organic matter we remove in gardening. Special emphasis on aerating
what's been squashed and cushioning to prevent compaction.