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Spring Garden Cleanup Tips

By: Jennifer HowellJennifer Howell
Spring is right around the corner! Check out our helpful tips to tidy things up for the garden season and get plants off to a healthy start.

Cut back evergreen ground covers like this lilyturf in early spring: Lilyturf's foliage is evergreen but can look tattered by late winter. Cut it back in early spring to encourage fresh new growth.

Spring garden to-do list

You can feel it in the air — spring is coming. Maybe you’ve already started a few seeds indoors, but soon it will be time to get outside and do those early gardening jobs to get ready for the new season. Here are some things to do now that will help make your garden better this year.

Cut back evergreen ground covers in spring

Lilyturf, mondo grass, hakonechloa and sedges have grassy foliage that doesn’t die back in winter in most areas of the country. But even if they’re evergreen, sometimes they look ratty by spring. Should you trim them, and if so, when? Here are a few tips:

  • Lilyturf In northern zones where it can look brown and shabby in late winter, start by raking out dead foliage in early spring. Use scissors or hedge shears to cut back 2⁄3 of the old growth, as in the photo above. In the South, use a lawn mower set high enough that it won’t shave off the plant’s crown and mow large plantings each year before new growth begins.
  • Mondo grass In USDA zones 5-10 where it’s hardy, don’t shear it off. Use scissors to snip out dead foliage and leaves with browned, dead edges.
  • Hakonechloa Mulch this plant in late fall in USDA zones 5 and 6, then remove that covering in late winter. Cut back blades 3 to 6 inches from the crown. In warmer zones 7 to 9, just rake out dead, dry foliage and cut the plant back only if it needs shaping or rejuvenation.
  • Sedges Wear rubber gloves and comb through clumps of foliage with your fingers—dried leaves will stick to the gloves and make that job easy. With scissors, trim off brown tips on any cold-damaged leaf blades.

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Cleaning out bird nesting boxes in spring: Clean the birdhouse so the chicks have a safe and healthy environment to grow in.

Clean out nesting boxes

Early spring is a good time to remove old nesting materials from birdhouses before your winged friends return to lay eggs. If the birdhouse is convertible to a winter roosting box like this one, take the perch ladder out and turn the door around so the hole is at the top, as well.

Open the box, scoop the old nest into a plastic bag and send it to the trash so leftover insect or disease pests can’t harm new chicks. Use a plastic brush to scrub out any mud or moldy debris. Spray the inside with a 1 part bleach, 9 parts water solution to disinfect, then rinse thoroughly with plain water. Leave the birdhouse open until it is completely dry. Then close it up and watch for new birds to arrive!


Clean up ornamental grasses

Ornamental grasses should be cleaned up in spring so new growth can take off as temperatures rise. Bundling the clumps with twine and using an shrub trimmer makes quick work of this task. Check out more tips in this video and cleaning up your ornamental grasses will be easier than ever.

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ht-what-to-do-now-earlyspring-3: A thick layer of winter mulch needs to be removed in spring so it doesn't smother roots or provide a home for pests.

Remove extra mulch in spring

If you’ve piled extra mulch around marginally hardy perennials and shrubs to help them overwinter, you’ll need to remove it in spring. When days get longer and air temps consistently rise above freezing during the day, start pulling back mulch in 1-in. layers, about once a week. This will allow the soil to warm gradually underneath, preventing the plant from sprouting too soon and getting nipped off by a cold snap.

Published: Feb. 28, 2018
Updated: March 10, 2021

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work in the garden. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

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