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Garden Beds

How to Clean Garden Beds

A garden bed is a plot of bare soil that is prepared to plant flowers, herbs or vegetables. It is essential to clean these beds after winter to ensure that the garden bed and the plants in it are ready for the growing season during spring. Garden bed cleanup is also essential to ensure that the plants are not affected by any diseases or pests after the extreme climate of the winter season. 

People often wonder “What is garden bed cleanup for landscaping?” Therefore, Edenapp explains all the steps involved in cleaning your garden beds in this article. Edenapp also discusses the right time for garden bed cleanup, how you should clean flower beds in fall and if leaves should be removed from the beds in spring. Read on to find the answers to all these common questions regarding garden bed cleanup.

1. Clear Debris

Clearing debris from garden beds is the first step in garden bed cleanup. The step-by-step procedure for this is given below.

  1. Rake all the dead leaves from the garden bed using a leaf rake with flexible tines so that you don’t damage any plants or disturb their roots.
  2. Remove any other debris on the garden bed like pet refuse, broken stems, branches or twigs by hand.
  3. Keep all the collected green waste like leaves, stems, and twigs aside for composting.
  4. Do not compost pet refuse as it does not contain any beneficial nutrients and can harm your lawn instead due to the presence of any bacteria or virus.

Clearing debris from the garden beds will ensure that no moisture collects under the dead leaves and will help keep the garden bed dry and free of mold.

2. Remove Winter Mulch

Removing winter mulch is necessary only if you added extra mulch before winter set in for protection during the harsh winter months. The step-by-step procedure for this is given below.

  1. Check if your region is out of the frost zone.
  2. Start removing winter mulch only when there is no more danger of frost.
  3. Wear your gardening gloves and remove the mulch by hand to ensure that the roots of the plants in the garden beds are not damaged.
  4. Add the mulch back again if there is a sudden, unexpected cold spell to protect the roots of the plants from frost.

3. Prune and Trim

Pruning and trimming plants right before spring starts in full swing will allow for healthy new growth during the growing season. The step-by-step procedure for this is given below.

  1. Pull out all the dead annuals left over from winter and throw them in the compost pile.
  2. Prune the limbs of woody perennials that should only be trimmed in spring for new growth like lavender and artemisia. Prune to remove the previous year’s growth to allow space and energy for new growth.
  3. Trim evergreens that retain their green leaves throughout winter but need to be tidied up during spring like bearded iris and epimedium if you live in cold regions that allow you to plant evergreens.
  4. Do not dispose of all the pruned and trimmed green waste and use it for composting.

Pruning and trimming to remove the parts that have died during winter or have been affected by, allows more nutrient availability for the growing and healthy parts of the plants.

4. Cut Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses should be cut back in spring to remove previous year’s growth and allow new growth for the new season. The step-by-step process for this is given below.

  1. Gather the entire grass plant and tie all of the leaves and blades a few inches off the ground using a twine.
  2. Cut the grass plant right above the twine using sharp shears.
  3. Add the cut ornamental grass to the compost pile.

You don’t have to worry about cutting too much of the ornamental grass as it grows back in the new season even when it is cut close to the ground.

5. Remove Weeds

Any weeds that are present in the garden bed need to be removed before planting new plants or transplanting old plants to provide enough space and nutrients for the new additions. This also prevents the weeds from multiplying and taking over your entire garden bed. The step-by-step procedure for removing existing weeds and preventing new weeds is given below.

  1. Wear knee pads and gardening gloves so that you can remove weeds easily while kneeling without hurting your hands or knees. 
  2. Hold the weed plant near the root to pull it out. Do not pull the leaves or the stem as the weed plant will break and its roots will remain in the soil.
  3. Pull out using a slight twisting action to loosen the soil around it and prevent the roots from breaking. This will allow the entire weed plant to be pulled out from the ground cleanly.
  4. Use a weeding tool to pull out weed plants with full established roots as these could be hard to pull out by hand.
  5. Repeat this process for all the weeds in the garden bed.
  6. Apply pre-emergent herbicide after identifying the weeds in your garden bed to prevent them from returning next season.
  7. Do not add the removed weeds to the compost pile as this will cause weed seeds or reproductive nodes to get replanted in the garden bed when you use the compost.

A pro tip here is to use different gloves for weeding and planting to ensure that any weed seeds stuck on the gloves do not get planted along with the new plants. Also read the product label carefully before applying the pre-emergent herbicide for the right rate of application.

6. Divide Old Plants and Transplant or Add New Plants

After clearing your garden bed of debris and unwanted growth and vegetation, it is time to plant. Spring is an ideal time to divide and transplant old perennials (perennial division) or add new plants to your garden bed as this is the peak growing season and all the plants are raring to go.

The step-by-step procedure for dividing and transplanting perennials is given below.

  1. Dig out the perennials carefully without damaging them.
  2. Shake off the soil attached to the roots.
  3. Divide the perennial by either gently pulling the roots apart by hand or by cutting the plant with a sharp knife into smaller parts with roots attached to each of the parts.
  4. Plant these new perennials in the bare spaces of the same garden bed or in a different garden bed.

For more information on perennial division, read Edenapp’s article – Guide to Dividing Perennials.

The step-by-step procedure for planting new plants in the garden bed is given below.

  1. Select new plants that have similar sun, water, and soil condition requirements as the existing plants in the garden bed.
  2. Dig a hole in the right place in your garden bed and according to the dimension given on the container or packet.
  3. Carefully remove the new plant from the container or packet and tease its roots a little so that they are growing down and are not linked together. This is to ensure that the new plant establishes its roots properly once planted.
  4. Place the plant in the hole you’ve dug.
  5. Fill in the edges of the hole with soil to make sure the plant has enough support to stay standing.
  6. Monitor the growth and development of the plant to ensure that it is correctly established to thrive. If you notice anything wrong like wilting leaves, check if you are feeding and watering the plant well.

7. Add New Mulch

Adding a new layer of mulch in spring happens some time after the garden bed has been cleaned up. This is to give the garden bed enough time after winter to dry and become warmer. The step-by-step procedure to add mulch to the garden bed is given below,

  1. Water the garden bed if the soil is too dry. If the soil is moist, you can skip this step.
  2. Keep the mulch in a wheelbarrow next to you so that it is easier to scoop and spread.
  3. Scoop the mulch from the wheelbarrow with a shovel and create a small pile on the garden bed.
  4. Create enough well-spaced mulch piles like this so that spreading them will cover the entire bed.
  5. Spread each of these mulch piles carefully to form a thin layer of mulch.
  6. Water the mulch after all of it is spread evenly. This is an optional step but it would help the mulch settle without any air pockets.

8. Edge the Beds

Winter can ruin your garden bed edging and make it look unkempt. Therefore, it is important to edge the bed during spring to maintain the appearance of your outdoor space. The step-by-step process to refresh the edges of your garden bed is given below.

  1. Remove any physical material you have placed to edge your garden bed like bricks or pavers if you have any. If your edge is bare, you can skip this step and start with the next one directly.
  2. Cut along the existing edge with a shovel or a half moon edger.
  3. Remove any extra dirt that has slipped into the trench or sod that might have grown into the edge to give your garden bed a well-defined border. If you had a bare edge before, then this is where your edging process stops. If not, complete the next step.
  4. Place the solid border material like bricks or pavers that you had removed in the first step back into the newly-cleaned trench. You can also place new bricks or pavers or even completely change the material to metal or plastic if the old material looks too worn out or if you want to change the look of your landscape a little.

9. Compost Removed Plants

Do not throw away the plants and green debris removed during garden bed cleanup as they can be used for composting. Composting is best done in layers of brown (eg.: dead leaves, wood chips, etc.) and green (eg.: vegetable and fruit waste) materials. You will need to use some materials apart from the green waste removed from the garden beds. The step-by-step procedure to do this is given below.

  1. Put stalky brown materials like twigs and branches at the bottom of the compost pile to allow better air flow and prevent odor formation during the composting process.
  2. Add brown materials like wood chips, straw, and dried leaves; even brown paper bags can be added to the ‘brown’ layer.
  3. Follow the brown layer up with a green layer of grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, coffee grounds, etc.; these materials should be rich in nitrogen.
  4. Create alternate piles of green and brown materials till all your waste has been used.
  5. Turn over the compost weekly if you want to quicken the composting process but this is not really necessary if you are creating layers and you don’t need the compost urgently.

Biodegradable items like tea bags and napkins can also be thrown into the compost pile.

When should you clean your garden bed?

You should clean your garden bed during spring and fall. The purpose of spring garden bed cleanup is to remove any debris, dead, decaying or disease ridden plants or parts of plants from the garden bed. Spring garden bed also involves preparing the plants and the bed for the growing season ahead. This is the reason old mulch is removed and new plants and mulch are planted and placed in the garden bed respectively.

The purpose of fall garden bed cleanup is to remove any spent annuals to prevent them from decaying in the bed over winter and to clear the bed of any debris like dried leaves that can get buried under the snow during winter. Dead or diseased plants or parts of plants are also removed along with any weeds that might be present in the garden bed. This is to keep the garden bed as clean and free of any unwanted vegetation as possible and to prevent any of these from getting buried under the snow.

How to clean up flower beds in the fall?

The process of cleaning garden beds in the fall is similar to spring garden bed cleanup as it also involves removing debris, spent annuals, dead and diseased plants, and weeds from the garden or flower bed. Certain points of differences between the two are that we don’t remove any mulch from the bed when cleaning it during fall. In fact, we add some winter mulch for extra protection in the regions that experience extreme winter weather. Fall garden bed cleanup also involves planting a winter crop to protect other plants in a garden bed during winter.

For more detailed information on fall cleanup read Edenapp’s article – Fall Clean-Up Checklist: Steps to Prep Your Yard.

Should you remove dead leaves from the garden bed in spring?

You should remove dead leaves from the garden bed in spring when you are doing the first cleanup right after winter. In regions that receive snowfall during winter, some of these leaves might have been buried under the snow and some might have been lying on top of the snow. In both these cases, the dead leaves would be moist and leaving moist leaves in your garden bed right after winter is not a good idea. The garden bed needs to properly dry after winter and moist dead leaves will slow down that process.

However, after the first cleanup if dead leaves fall into the garden beds from the surrounding trees, you can leave them there to decompose on their own and add some nutrients back to the soil. If the leaf layer becomes more than 2 inches thick, then you need to rake or remove at least half these leaves so that the soil and the roots in the soil receive enough oxygen.

For more detailed information on spring yard cleanup, read Edenapp’s article – Spring Yard Clean Up Checklist and Essentials

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