Backyard Blog

Seven Steps to a Successful Spring Cleanup

As we bid farewell to another winter in Colorado, the essence of spring begins to wake the world with longer days and warmer temperatures. By April, most of us are crazed with cabin fever, desperate to return outside. Taking time to do a thorough spring cleanup can leave you, and your landscape, feeling refreshed and ready for the new season. At this week’s Backyard Blog, we’ll be discussing all the “do’s and don’ts” of spring cleanups. 

If you aren’t accustomed to doing yard cleanups, cutting your plants back in the beginning of spring can be daunting. But, like a haircut, giving your landscape the proper pruning can encourage vigorous and healthy plant growth. Don’t be afraid: out with the old, in with the new! Grab your garden clippers, and let’s start trimming.

Prune perennials and remove debris.

With a clean pair of clippers, cut back any brown, dead, and dry plant material. Pruning to the base of the plant won’t hurt anything. These plants lose their leaves and stems during winter dormancy and have new growth emerge from their roots as soil temperatures warm. Clean carefully around bulbs (daylily, iris, hosta, etc.), using your hands to gently rake away debris without disturbing any new bulbs below the surface. 

Cut back ornamental grasses.

When cutting ornamental grasses, be conscious to trim before any new growth becomes visible. Cool season grasses (fescue, feather reed, oat grass, etc.) will be the first to emerge in cooler spring temperatures, so it’s important to do your cleanup beforehand.  While you can use an electric trimmer to cut your grasses down, you might spend more time raking up the mess. If you’ve got a friend nearby, we recommend one person bundling the grass while the other makes a clean cut with shears. Teamwork makes the dream work! If you’re flying solo, you can get creative with a bungee cord or hair-tie to keep everything together while you make the cut. 

Prune certain shrubs.

Generally, most shrubs and trees benefit from being trimmed in late fall/early winter. Pruning in spring can damage or remove new buds, stunting growth for that year. However, there are some differences to note. Spring flowering shrubs, like lilacs, should be trimmed after flowering, whereas shrubs blooming later in summer should be pruned in early spring. While it’s tempting to get after those rose bushes, wait until Mother’s Day passes before taking your clippers to them (prune back to 1/3 of the plant’s original size). For woody shrubs, note that you should never prune more than 1/3 of the plant’s original size. 

Cutting out and removing any dead or winter-injured branches is a good practice during spring cleanups and can prevent future disease or infection in that plant. Note, shears are not recommended for shrubs or trees; try using long-handled loppers to get the job done.

Refresh wood mulch areas. 

After cutting back your perennials, you may find it easier to top-dress any thinned mulch areas with new material (we recommend a 3” natural wood mulch layer). Be careful not to pile mulch directly against the base of any plant. Wood mulch regulates soil temperature, preserves soil moisture, acts as a barrier against weeds, and improves overall soil health and microorganism activity.

Pull weeds as you see them.  

While your yard may look brown and dormant, you might be shocked to find weeds growing already! Managing weeds in your landscape hinges on preventing further seed formation. The first line of defense is pulling those pesty weeds as soon as you see them (I know, I know… not what you wanted to hear). The younger the weed, the easier this process will be. Utilizing wood mulch, maintaining proper site conditions, and consistently pulling weeds will keep your landscape in topnotch shape.   

Properly dispose of yard waste. 

With all your pruning, raking, and clipping, you’ll inevitably end up with a lot of yard waste. Many yard trimmings make for excellent compost, reducing landfill waste and returning nutrients back to the soil. Amending our heavy, Colorado clay soils with organic matter is a great way to improve soil tilth over time. However, you’ll want to separate any weeds and infected/diseased plant material for proper disposal. Follow-up with some gentle raking and blowing to leave your landscape looking spick and span. 

Think of the garden pollinators. 

Insect conservation creates diverse landscapes and healthy ecosystems. Many garden pollinators, like wild bees and butterflies, overwinter in wood cavities or nests beneath the soil. Because of this, we always recommend doing your cleanup in spring, not fall. Leaving woody branches, leaves, and other debris over the winter offers protection and habitat for these beneficial insects. Wait until soil temperatures consistently reach 50° before cleaning your yard; this will decrease the chance of harming overwintering pollinators.  Leaving a small corner of your yard “unmanaged” is an excellent way to promote and support the insects that keep our plants pollinated.

That’s it, Kaleido-Crew! Spring cleanups can be a lot of work, but you’ll leave feeling proud and satisfied after it’s all said and done. Now, sit back and enjoy watching your landscape come to life. If you have any questions, leave us a comment below. Until next time!  

Wishing you all a wonderful first week of spring,


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