How I don’t spring-clean the garden

At last! Sunday gave us a day that was springy enough to let us work outside. An afternoon of liberating my pent-up gardener accomplished a lot.

But. No matter how eager I was, here are three things I didn’t do to clean up the garden.

I didn’t get carried away

April 2 in Toronto is a touch early for any drastic garden task outdoors. Despite what you might see on a 14-day-forecast, weather can be unpredictable and ready to April Fool you. While I did tidy up withered hellebore leaves, crunchy hosta stems, and the ragged evidence of last year’s grasses, I didn’t peel back their surrounding leafy blanket. Not yet. Trust me, when it’s time the plants will rise above it.

Plus, I spent only three hours working on my first day out. It was the Goldilocks amount of time: Not too little, not too much. Afterwards, the muscles not used since last autumn were gently thrumming, but I won’t need medical intervention. Easy does it.

I didn’t walk all over the garden

The ground is still wet and easily compacted. Walking on it would be bad enough in my sandy garden, but would be a bigger mistake in a garden on clay. Clay particles are tiny, with tiny spaces between them. Treading on wet clay squeezes out the space for air and water – not good for wakening roots.

Besides, many emerging plants have yet to peek above the soil. In my garden, stepping stones give me a safe path for garden maintenance. For the remote bits, tiptoe like a ballerina if you must, and use your best yoga moves to extend your reach and take the weight off.

The really ratty hellebore leaves went; Fall’s generous gift of leaves stayed put.
I didn’t bag the leaves

Every year, we watch with sadness as local gardeners strip their garden soil naked, putting all their free raw materials into bags to be taken away. Do your best Marlon Brando*, and say: The leaves! The leaves! (*The horror! The horror!)

In my garden, brown is beautiful, contributing organic matter that’s good for soil ecology and good for the garden. Not only did I leave the leaves on the garden beds, I didn’t bag up any that had gathered in the driveway or on the patio, even on my neighbour’s side of our shared back yard.

Instead, I raked them all into a pile in a corner of my drive, and covered them with a tarp so they don’t blow away. Every few days for the next few weeks, I’ll go give them a stir. Some will quietly begin to turn into leaf mould. When I have time (and, I hope, when baby C next door isn’t napping), out will come the leaf shredder to give them a going over. Then, onto the garden they go.

Even unshredded, this big brown pile is a horticultural goldmine.

Did you get into your garden this weekend? What did (or didn’t) you do?


  1. Did much the same thing, am so tempted to clean up the leaves, but did not. I am about to hard prune quite a few summer spirea? Good idea?

    1. Pruning Spirea depends on the actual species, Penny. Many (like Spirea x bumalda ‘Goldflame’) flower on new growth, so can be pruned early in the season. Some (like Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’) flower on old wood (last year’s growth), so you need to wait till after they flower, or you cut off all the flower buds. The easy way to remember: summer flowering = you can prune early; spring flowering = wait till after.

  2. I am so happy I save our leaves each fall. I just finished placing leaf mold on the blueberry garden. Just think of all the money that could be saved by leaving or storing leaves for next year’s garden. Taking lessons from mother nature herself.

  3. I have 9 big black bags of leaves awaiting the shredder and then the new compost bin that hubby is building for me. Can’t wait to put those brown crunchy bits of goodness to use in the garden!

  4. Yup – I was out there and overdid it, but only a bit 🙂 Other than the regular veg bed prep, there was one bed in the backyard that I didn’t get to last year and it was riddled with hawthorns. I probably took out close to 15 or more saplings, including a couple that qualified as small trees. They are now beside the fire pit, ready for incineration. And I’m a big leaf collector too – as we are in a rural area, no one bags their leaves, but I see it all the time when I go into town. Hate that so much goodness is going to waste.

    1. Those self-seeding trees can turn into a big nuisance! For me, it’s Norway maples (Acer platanoides), tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), and white mulberry (Morus alba) – all very prolific with viable seed. But at least mine don’t have thorns! Those hawthorns must have been quite the task.

  5. did enjoy the work outside this sunny Sunday; little steps for sure…uncovered the japanese maple, finally got to empty the winter seasonal planters front & back yard; hubby removed the long turned off Christmas lights from various places. Most of that is in the front as the back is still way too wet to do anything ground level

    1. It certainly has been a season of April Showers in 2017, hasn’t it. Hoping for more forgiving weather this weekend, as a still have a few things to do.

  6. Me too!I planted peas though. I sure hope it’ll be ok. Inside , I have all my little seed
    I go started too. This desire to plant; such a beautiful, life affirming thing; yes; it really is a time of grace.

    1. Good for you with your peas. Some people in our “zone” (but in the U.S.) plant their peas as early as St. Patrick’s Day! While I couldn’t do that in my garden in Toronto, they are cool-weather crops, so the very best of luck with yours.

  7. I totally agree although it is a hard sell for my partner who just can’t stop himself. We now have our own garden spaces to accommodate our different styles.

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