The Garden Beckons: Pruning to Soil Preparation

Get ready for spring!

| February/March 1997

This time of year, when it’s no longer winter but not quite spring, I’m eager to be outside. I long for the sun’s heat on my sweatered back, the smell of moist soil, the sight of pink earthworms. I treasure each blossom of early spring—disproportionately from other times of the year, considering the drifts of spicy pinks and rosy creeping thyme blossoms that will come later. I even celebrate the first yellow dandelion in the lawn, though perhaps I’ll feel less charitable toward its multitude of children later in the summer.

Now is when I give “conceptual garden tours”. Waving my arms about broadly, I stop to point out the comfrey that will soon be growing in just that spot, or the horseradish, currently dormant, or the pineapple mint that will soon boast shoots of soft green-and-white leaves. I wonder if the plants look better in my mind’s eye than in real life. Of course, not everyone can see them.

A few herbs are clearly visible, however. The frost-felled parsley has recovered and is a cheerful emerald green behind the yellow crocuses, white snowdrops, and sky blue pansies. Yellow tassels of coltsfoot on naked scapes are up long before the leaves appear, giving rise to another common name, sons-before-fathers. Evergray lavender leaves shine silver in the sun.

The interval between winter and spring is the ideal time to do some outside spring cleaning and get a fresh start on the new gardening year. Keeping a gardening notebook has been a big help in reminding me what needs to be done. Each year, I record my successes and failures, make resolutions, and note ideas I glean from spring flower shows for plant placement and new plants and combinations to try. Sketches of my beds remind me of the location of dormant plants.

Use your imagination and walk with me through my garden as I go about my spring chores.

Prune away

Now is the time to prune almost everything. In cooler climates, herbs such as catnip, horehound, winter savory, lemon balm, and oregano are more likely to survive a winter if the old stalks are left uncut in the fall; by now, they’re ready for a cleanup. Here in Atlanta, sweet marjoram, pineapple sage, velvet sage (Salvia leucantha), Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida), and scented geraniums also overwinter better if left uncut. With newly sharpened clippers, I cut the old, dead stems down to the ground, making way for the new shoots that will emerge from the crown. I lift the evergreen boughs from borderline-hardy herbs such as prostrate rosemary. Snipping off winter-burned tips of sage, rosemary, and other herbs encourages new growth and a bushier shape. I take the trimmings to the compost pile or add them to a final fragrant blaze in the fireplace.

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