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Early season care of

perennial beds


Once the first spring bulb emerges, gardeners are itchy to get out and DO SOMETHING! The first tendency is to rake away leaves and debris, turn the soil and frame the new plants with the glorious colour of earth. Nothing could convince me that this is a bad idea, not even my own good advice!

Cleaning up the beds is a habit not easily broken because of the long time we've been denied the ability to garden. But: we must be aware of the possible and likely consequences of fiddling about in our flower beds in early spring.

In early spring, perennial beds contain a vast collection of living plant roots. Roots thrive at the lower soil temperatures in late fall and early spring. In the fall, root growth continues for 6 or more weeks after the tops have died or stopped growing. In the spring, roots begin their growth long before the young shoots emerge. Too much enthusiastic digging with a cultivator in early spring can damage these new roots.

How many of us have a perfect recollection of where the plants are in a perennial bed? Where did I plant those bulbs last fall? It is a sickening feeling to puncture a tulip bulb with a trowel or unearth bulbs which you forgot were there. Every year I vow to avoid digging in areas I suspect are vacant but every year at least one bulb is sacrificed for the sake of my need to garden. It would be a tremendous idea to make a diagram of each flower bed. This is something I have always meant to do and heartily recommend to others.

My less-than-foolproof method of mapping is done every fall. With a wheelbarrow full of compost and/or manure I try to visit each plant and give it a light dressing around the base. At the same time I can cut back the perennials or divide them as needed. Certain perennials I leave uncut because they are attractive in their winter state. In the spring the compost or manure is still visible and indicates where a plant should be.

Do not work with the soil if it is still frozen or if the ground is too wet. Wet soil will compact easily and result in poor drainage and aeration for the remainder of the year.

In the spring, when I first survey the success of my fall efforts, my tools include a trowel (just because I have to have a trowel or it doesn't feel right), secateurs (for the same reason) and a pail of fertilizer. Fertilizing during active root growth is a perfect way to get the plants off to a good start. I steer towards a fertilizer which is not too high in available nitrogen and has an organic base. For example, 8-12-6. With this type of fertilizer you are providing gentle encouragement in the form of slow release nutrients. A handful around every plant can be cultivated in along with the compost or manure when the shoots have safely emerged.

Grasses start to grow earlier than most perennials and spread quickly in early spring. To maintain the clean edge of the bed and prevent grass invasion, edging in early spring is one of the first tasks. This can done by using your trowel or an edging tool and making a clean cut in the sod around the bed. To avoid or delay edging, you can put a physical barrier between the bed and the lawn. Stone or landscape bricks make an attractive border and can give a soft, natural look by allowing creeping perennials to spill over. Creeping phlox, aubrietia, dianthus or lamb's ears are some examples of perennials well suited for this task.

Working in the perennial beds in early spring will remind you of the mental notes you made the previous year concerning plants you would like to add or perennials which are taking up too much space. You can begin your wish list of perennials to look for the next time you visit the garden centre.


Daisy Moore, 1998.



Other spring garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Designing Gardens

Fertilizing the Garden
Ready for Spring
Starting Seeds Indoors
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Dormant Spraying
Planning the Vegetable Garden
Planting Early Vegetables
Early Season Care of Perennial Beds
Plants for an Early Spring Show
Cut Flowers for the Home Garden
Growing the Perfect Potato
Lawn Care in Early Spring.....GRUB DAMAGE!
Spring Lawn Care
The Garden in May
Gardening with Native Plants
Sources of Native Plants
Shade Gardening
Planting Gladiolus and Other Summer Flowering Bulbs
Weed Control
Thatch in Lawns
Weeds or Wildflowers
Improving Your Soil
Marvellous Mulch
Selecting and Planting Shrubs
Planting Trees and Shrubs
Window Box Gardening
Growing Tomatoes
Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden



Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy


Daisy Moore 2005