Too early to clean up garden in Zone 5 Chicago ?

linnea56(z5 IL)April 5, 2014

I can avoid walking in it, I can just reach in from the outside and from stepping stones. I set it up so maintenance could be done without walking on the soil. I have a lot of sticks and matted leaves I'd like to get out. I can see crocuses trying to get through.

I wish I knew what the cut off point was, when is too early, so I could mark it on my calendar .

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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Linnea, I start cleaning up just about when I start seeing new growth on anything. I just don't like it to get away from me and end up having to cut off old foliage and work around new growth. Once the winter is over I cut back my grasses any time too. Picking up fallen branches, trimming damaged foliage off the phlox subulata that is along the edge of one of my beds. I try to stay out of my beds too and stick to the paths. I don't pull the mulch off anything until the plants force me to, unless daffodils are trying to bloom maybe. I'm pruning shrubs now too because I couldn't get out there in the winter, too much snow for one thing.

We started cutting back dead sedum and aster debris today. More of that tomorrow and I'm gong to start moving perennials too. i'm in zone 6a though, so I don't know if your area is still expecting winter weather. But still, you have it set up so you don't have to get into the beds. The only issue would be uncovering things too soon.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 8:00PM
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This page supplies a spot where you can input your zip code to find your last frost date.

Here is a link that might be useful: Almanac website

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 8:15PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

pshaw ....

many things create their own little winter protection ... which also delays early active growth by shading the soil... keeping it cooler... etc ...

you uncover everything.. and it starts growing ... and then you.. in your zone.. have frost/freeze potential thru near 6/1 ... you will HIGHLY be regretting.. uncovering everything now... TRUST ME ..

there is plenty of stuff to clean and primp.. w/o uncovering your plants ...

you have a real tendency towards retentiveness... wanting to have calenders.. and schedules.. etc... sorry .. but that isnt gardening.. and anyone who makes such a website.. is winging it on some level ...

there is no upside to uncovering plants early ... in fact.. if you never do it.. they grow right up thru it.. i have been experimenting with this system for a few years now.. lol ...

be very very careful... with thinking you can be doing that the peeps in warmer zones are doing .... crikey.. i still have a few spots of snow cover ... the warmer zone peeps bragging.. is one of the real downsides to GW ... lol ...


    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 8:34PM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

Right now I see only bulbs growing, no growth on perennials. Not even on my Japanese tree peony, which is the first thing to wake up. Well, I can cut down dead stalks, IâÂÂll limit myself to that.

It is just that I know once my seasonal business, I will have no time. Every year I seem to have to work around new growth, as prairie moon states.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 9:03PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Linnea, I usually can cut back dead stalks and foliage without removing the heavy leaf mulch I have around the plants. I do understand how you have a window of time to get it done and it takes so much longer and is more aggravating if you have to work around the new growth.

I think it was two years ago, when we had an early early warm spring with temps in the 70s and a few 80 degree days and everything was growing a mile a minute. Then three weeks of that and it was down below freezing a few nights in a row. DH and I just ran out and put overturned pots and anything that would work to cover as much as we could. We covered what would hurt the most if it were damaged. Some things like the Viburnum carlesii were too big to cover, but even with two nights in a row of temps at 31 degrees, not one bit of damage.

And Ken, I am so sad for you :-(. I didn't stop to think that my excitement to get out in the garden was hard for all you zone 5 and lower peeps. Awwwww! Sorry about that Ken. :-) It won't be long now. A few more sunny warmer days and one morning you'll look out the window and the snow will be gone.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 9:26PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

Go ahead and do it. I do more damage to early sprouts by waiting and have never had a problem with an early cleaning. My front bed has been cleaned out for a week for the snowdrops and crocus and I always do this.... Actually my heavily mulched daffodils (mulched with chopped autumn leaves) are all further up than the unmulched plantings. I suspect uncovered ground actually delays sprouting because the ground cools off more each night.
Just my experience.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:21PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

I don't think those in warmer zones are bragging. They are sharing their garden days and experiences as they happen and I am happy they do. I love seeing bright colors and shades of green while waiting for this season of brown and black to slowly come awake again.

When a frost catches newly uncovered perennials I find that they survive just fine. The new foliage may be damaged but they bounce back quickly. Some are not bothered at all. What I find is a bigger problem is sun damage. After uncovering I take a handful of mulch and let it flutter over the plant. Just enough to shade the new growth a bit. As the plant grows that mulch will either settle around the plant or blow away.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 1:38AM
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Let's not forget the snowstorm we got in the first week of May last year. I was outside trying my best to cover all the annuals I had just planted. It was a lost cause they didn't survive the freeze that followed. I have pampas grass that I plan on cutting this week along with the many winter damages branches on the spring blooming shrubs. Anything else will wait until after May.

This post was edited by mori1 on Sun, Apr 6, 14 at 2:58

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 1:46AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Annuals are a different thing. I usually only have pansies out or other cold hardy annuals until May and this year, I haven't put any out yet.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 3:32AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Here in WV we often have frost/freezes as late as the end of May. So it hardly matters when we begin spring clean up--we're going to get zapped and be out there covering dozens of shrubs and perennials and veggies. Last year I had to spray the Sourwood four mornings to save it from a hard freeze, while the rest of the garden was dotted with coverings of all sorts. The last freeze was late May and I lost all the berries on the bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 6:38AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

My yard is such a mess, there is sh*t strewn everywhere (pottery, bagged leaves, etc). I left it a mess, now I have to clean the mess. I don't even know where to start... I really don't have time to start, either. So I guess it's going to remain a mess until May when I'm on vacation - and I hate the messiness, it's too stressful. I don't care what other people think, I care what *I* think, and messiness = stress for me. SIGH...

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 11:14AM
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molanic(Zone 5 IL)

I've been cutting back things for a little over a week now. Prior to that the ground was like walking on a waterbed from all the snow melt. I am still trying to stay out of the garden beds while cutting back. I have a few stepping stones placed in some beds to give me a place to stand or squat. It is not easy and I look like I am playing twister trying to stay out of the beds. After a couple of hours of work my first day out I had four big blisters on my pruner hand and a VERY sore hamstring.

What I do now is cut off the old dried up growth and break or cut it into smaller pieces and toss it back on the beds to act as mulch. Then I lightly fluff up the mulch, matted leaves, and debris with a rake...hopefully before new growth would be damaged. I'm going to try just doing this for a while and not use any more wood mulch around plants. I hate trying to dig in a bed that has big hard wood chips ground deep into the soil.

Next year I may try getting a long handled hedge trimmer to reach in and cut down the old growth. Then use a rake to pull it out to be cut up and tossed back in.

I don't try to break up anything super thick or woody and just put that out for yard waste pickup or in a brush pile. The ornamental grass cuttings would just blow off the beds, so I break them up a little and use them to mulch in my fenced off veggie garden along with purchased straw.

I'm in northern IL too and I just had my first few crocus blossoms a few days ago. Wish I could remember which variety they are because they are much earlier than the other varieties which just have leaves up. My daffodils are about 3-4" up too. The only perennials I noticed with new growth is some catmint, a few columbines, and one errant hosta shoot. We got a few pansies put out yesterday just for a little early color.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 11:56AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Mxk3, why not do a little bit every day and use your vacation time to enjoy your garden instead. Inch by inch itâÂÂs a cinch, yard by yard, itâÂÂs hard. :-)

Molanic, I have a sunburn on my face and really stiff hamstrings too, but it was sure nice to get outside. I really want to get some pansies this week too, then you really feel like spring is here.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 5:22PM
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It wasn't just the annuals though they were my main concern. I also had to recover my lavenders, thymes (I lost two), and some other tender perennials. Then again I'm in zone 5 so I'll wait until after May.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 7:20PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

It is just that I know once my seasonal business, I will have no time.

==>>> you ask the variables.. we give them to you .. and you do what you can do... when you can ..

if you lose things.. so what.. those new open spots are new opportunities for something new ...

in a perfect world.. there would be no time constraints ... gotta run... lol ...

so just do it ... and if frost or freeze rolls thru.. so be it ...


    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 7:36AM
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Hey there,

Your average last frost date is May 1st. I have to agree that nature does provide it's own form of protection. With Crocus it may be snow or leaves, both of which are insulators, keeping in the heat they produce. I would wait a little while. This winter has been SO long and SO unpredictable. I'm sure Chicago set some records this year :). Patience is a virtue, If you remove those leaves and you get some nasty freezing winds, you are liable to do in some of those lovely perennials. So....if you just CAN'T wait to clean the weather and cover those tender just emerging plants if it looks like freezing winds or frost is in your forecast. Happy Spring!

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 12:47PM
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Pruning can seem overwhelming for some, but I think the best way to tackle it is to concentrate on one area at a time. This past weekend I pruned our 60 foot perennial bed. There's a bunch of peonies, catmint, asters, sedum, butterfly bushes, helianthus and grasses there. It took me several hours. Was I tired? Heck yeah! It felt great though to have completed this. The next spot is the huge berm in front of our house. That's next weekend's project. Start somewhere and just focus on that one spot. Eventually, you'll get it all done. Just do it is my motto - Nike got it right!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 8:26PM
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Ispahan Zone6a Chicago

I have been pruning and cleaning up for weeks, but I am very close to the (now thawed) lake which moderates my temperatures somewhat. I say to start clean up whenever time and inspiration dictate! :-)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 10:03AM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

Thanks, all. Molanic, I like your idea of âÂÂfluffing upâ the dead leaves. I have such dense mats in there I know the snow crocus are struggling underneath. I pulled one aside today and there were buds growing sideways.

I always thought snow crocus were the first: but I have a large flowered one that starts a week earlier. Maybe thatâÂÂs what you have. The ones I have are named Crocus vernus Twilight, and are a rich purple. When they first bloomed, I surprised to see how large the flowers were, and disappointed, as I thought of crocus as being dainty. But now I really like them: the bright purple really glows, when everything else is still dull brown.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 10:36PM
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I am two hours straight west of Chicago and have lots of perennials poking through the ground right now. Even the peonies! So, it is easy to see where to walk. I did most cleaning up in the fall but still have to cut the dead stalks from the mums. I left those up hoping the mums would all come back and they did!

They probably survived because we had snow that started in Nov. and never stopped until a few weeks ago. Snow is a wonderful mulch even in the coldest winter.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 9:38AM
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