Suddenly, there's lots more to do than I think I can accomplish in time.  In time for what?  For the intense gorgeousness that I expect to see in my very own garden by about mid-April, and continuing through the entire season.  Yes, I'm a dreamer, but making my garden as pretty as possible now seems like a good way to start the gardening season, anyway.  Before the bugs and the drought and, you know, reality.

Cleaning and Weeding

So I'm mulch-deep in the biggest job in the garden all year – the spring clean-up and cover-up.  Clean-up includes final removal of all dead plant materials because who wouldn't rather look at new leaves than old dead ones?  No need for perfection, though.  I always miss a few, especially the small ones, like those of the pin oaks that tower over my yard. 

But you know what's worth doing exactly right?  Weeding! Removing every bit of them now really will save me a lot of time later.   That's especially true of vining weeds, which can turn a yard into a jungle by mid-June!  Porcelainberry vine is a prime culprit in this department, but if your English ivy is going rogue (meaning, vertically, up buildings or trees like the badly behaved ivy in this photo) you'll be glad you got it back on the ground where it belongs now, not later.  It might take some doing to remove some of them but it's so worth it.

The last clean-up item is dead stalks of perennials.  Time for them to make way for new growth to take center stage.

Gardens are never far from becoming an unruly mess, and now is the time to prevent that for this season, by just cleaning up…then mulching.

The Great Mulching

If there’s bare ground exposed after removing weeds, dead leaves and low limbs, it won’t stay bare and weed-free for long without a nice covering of mulch, preferably 2-3 inches, but even just 1 will still help a lot.  Here's why we mulch:  it prevents weeds, retains moisture and adds organic matter to the soil.  That organic matter attracts earthworms and other beneficial bugs and microorganisms, and corrects for drainage problems with the soil – both too sandy AND too clayey.   Yep, it’s a miracle.  I like leafmold and pine “fines” best myself but any organic mulch in a natural color will do.

Some sources recommend waiting until the ground warms up to apply mulch, on the theory that applying mulch now would delay the warming of the soil.  That may be so, but I prefer mulching before everything has emerged and it's hard to step anywhere in the borders to do the mulching without destroying newly emerging plants.   Plus, it's more efficient to apply the mulch as you're removing leaf litter and weeding, and by doing it all at once you reduce to just once the need to step into the borders (and possibly create soil compaction).

 Moving and Dividing Perennials

If I have lots of moving and dividing to do, I try to triage the chores to be done by first moving plants that really hate to be moved later when it's hot and sunny.  Those are the ones with delicate roots that don't keep much soil around them - like black-eyed susans or purple coneflowers.  So I carefully move them now, and then turn to the fatter, stubbier-rooted plants like hostas and daylilies next, without worrying if it warms up before I get around to them.

There's another piece of common advice that, like the one about waiting until late spring to mulch, I sometimes ignore and that's the one telling us to wait for cool, overcast days to divide perennials and generally, to move plants or put new ones in the grounds.  That advice is sound, but often easier said than done, especially if you can only do garden prep on the weekends.  I say just DO it, rather than waiting for those perfect overcast days.  April is such a busy time in the garden, gardeners can't always be choosy about when we get the work done.

I do try to compensate, though, by protecting newly planted or moved plants from sun and wind, as needed, and especially by watering twice as often as I might on a cloudy day.  When I treat my plants less than perfectly, I try to make it up to them by pampering the poor uprooted things until they look settled in for the season.

Hardscape, Too

After mulching the beds and borders and before sweeping all the patios and sidewalks is a great time to clean off those hard surfaces.  I've found that over the season soil tends to settle onto my patios where it's happy to attract seeds and start sprouting, so in spring I remove all the misplaced soil before it can create trouble for me.  Trouble in the form of weeds and mud.

Okay, now I'm ready for lots of bulb action like we see in the top photo.  Bring it on!

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