Spring Cleanups are very beneficial for the health as well as the appearance of the landscape. Cutting back perennials that died to the ground over the winter allow for the plant not to have to fight through the old debris, allowing for more nutrients to get to the soil quicker than having to go through the decomposing remains of last season’s growth. The composted material that has been removed can be added back to the beds at a later date once all the larger material has been broken down to a usable material that the plant can readily pull up. Leaf debris also need to be removed as well, as it can smother your plants making it hard for them to develop and places a great deal of strain on a plant in the early spring. An example of this can be easily shown on your lawn when leaves are left on it for too long, the lawn will show signs of struggle with yellowing and browning, but unlike the rest of your landscape plants your lawn has the ability to quickly rebound. Plant development in the spring is very important, especially if the plant is not native to its surroundings. If a plant has to struggle in the early spring it could severely diminish its ability to grow, develop, and thrive throughout the season.
Pruning can be beneficial, but this will all depend on what plants are within the landscape. Plants develop differently from each other; flowering times, periods of sap production etc. Bud development is a very important key if the esthetics of the plant is the flower. If the plant blooms on old growth then spring time pruning would remove all the flower buds that were set last season. These plants will need to be pruned after the flowers are spent; plants such as dogwoods, crab trees, forsythia and rhododendrons all fall within this category. Plants such as paniculata hydrangea, spirea, rose of sharon along with roses, fall within the category of plants that bloom on new growth. Spring time pruning will not remove any potential flowers for the season and would more often than not benefit the plant by thinning the plant out, forcing the plant to develop new healthy growth. Particular evergreens such as boxwoods and yews can be pruned at any point to keep that tidy look (if that is the desired look.) Do it yourselfers should research the plants that are within their landscape, as improper pruning methods can have adverse effects not only on the appearance, but also their health.
There are many different kinds of mulches, each with their own unique qualities and benefits. Many types of mulch are just for the aesthetic purpose; while these can be visually appealing they do nothing for the health or longevity of your landscape, and can eventually hinder. Materials include decorative stone, recycled tire mulch, along with any materials that have no organic content. Inorganic materials may not have to be replenished annually, however in the long run can lead to the decline in your landscape. Stone mulch can increase the soil temperature, burning the root systems while also making it more difficult for moisture to penetrate the soil. Decomposition is the key to the health of your plants; as organic matter decomposes it releases nutrients that become available for the plant to pull from the soil. Organic matter also provides the soil with moisture holding capabilities, help keep the soil cool and provides a vapor barrier to keep weed seeds from germinating. Mulch should help accent the plants, not overshadow them, remember the plants are the focal point in the landscape.
Installation practices are also overlooked; mulch should not just be installed freely with no consideration to the plants. Without proper installation practices, you can end up harming your landscape in the long run by causing rot and suffocation. If mulch is placed too close to the base of a plant, the decomposition process along with its moisture holding capacity can start to decompose the plant. Mulch volcanoes are a common site and can cause the trunk of the tree or shrub to start to decompose, making it susceptible to a great deal of pests. The root flare of the tree should always be visible and mulch should be no thicker than 3” deep, this allows for proper gas exchange between the air and the soil along with moisture penetration. Mulching perennial beds can be just as helpful, the same practices should be performed, and these herbaceous plants can be affected much quicker than woody plant material. Mulching in the spring prior to the plants emerging is the best time (based on the ease of installation); this allows the plants to be able to push past the mulch, even though installing the mulch after the perennials have grown out allows for you to put less material down. Timing isn’t of a great deal of importance; just the fact that mulch has been installed is the important fact, the benefits of installing organic mulch surely outweigh the pros to using an inorganic product.