first day of cleanup: a tentative start to a new outdoor season

REPORT FROM THE FRONT: I still can’t even find the hellebores and epimediums to cut them back—usually my first outdoor assignment of each new season. This is some seriously tenacious snow, at least up here on my steep hillside.

Down the road apiece, all the flat, wide-open fields of my farmer neighbors revealed themselves the last few days, but not here. Not yet.

Yesterday my beloved old friends from Windy Hill Farm in Great Barrington, MA, came anyway to prune the beloved century-plus-old apple trees, despite having to trudge through all the white stuff. We just couldn’t wait any longer. (And I can’t do it without them, as the top-of-page photo reveals—I think that aluminum apple ladder is a 12-footer, to give you some idea of how high up the climb would be.)

They took a stern hand to the Asian pear espalier on the back of the house, too, that I’d let have its way the last year or two or three (above). Naughty me.

I guess it’s going fast now, the meltdown is, and I actually located a little spot on the paving stones near the house yesterday where I could rake awhile, satisfied by the rhythmic sound of metal tines on stones, delighted to gather up my first 2018 tip bag full of debris (below).

I found myself laughing a lot just at the fact of being out there—despite having to waddle cautiously and clumsily on the slippery terrain, despite being confined with my rake to a tiny dominion. Liberated, at last (at least a little).

HOW IS YOUR SPRING UNFOLDING? Won’t you tell me—tell all of us—in the comments box at the very bottom of the page?

While you’re here, these other stories from the archive may help if you are a little farther along already in your own cleanup, or whenever you’re ready to prep some beds or smother some weeds.

Categoriesgarden prep
  1. MARY Jane Drisgula says:

    We moved to SC from NJ. Spring comes earlier here but not time to plant veggies yet. The hellebores are blooming and the daffodils are winding down. We bought some perennials today and struggled to dig holes in the red clay. Hopefully some great amendments will help them to thrive. And did I say only one inch of snow?

  2. Karen says:

    In N NE (zone 4) we finally got rid of our snow, and then more fell all day today! Ugh. I haven’t done any cleanup outdoors, and I am “chomping at the bit”! Starting seeds this week-end to set out end of May (our last freeze date). Enjoying pictures of all the southern gardens blooming on IG and waiting for spring to creep northward toward us. And then it will hit suddenly and I won’t be able to keep up.

  3. Louise says:

    I am hoping to plant wild flowers, coneflowers and those that will benefit from the continued cold soon. Snow is melting so I am getting excited and hopeful for no new snow.

  4. Leesa says:

    In my Seattle urban garden, I’m anxiously waiting for my 3 large choisya to bloom. Everything, everywhere has little tiny growth coming out on stems. I have a flat of black mondo grass waiting to go in the ground and some pretty things that I bought at the Heronswood open garden day. Yeah…Spring is on the way.

    1. margaret says:

      So many plants in my garden came (by mail, tiny) from the old Heronswood Nursery back in the day. Now they are big shrubs and trees.

  5. Suzanne Derringer says:

    After a very cold winter here in Pittsburgh but little snow, we got about 7 inches of nasty wet stuff last week. My tiny daffodils bravely bloomed through the snow, ditto species crocus and Siberian squill. The roses and raspberries are beginning to leaf out. Strawberries are showing new growth. The bird feeding/watering station is constantly busy. Hyacinths, daffodils, tulips and daylilies are several inches out of the ground. Perennial herbs are beginning to show signs of life. The most exciting thing – the bay laurels and figs, all in containers, survived! I wrapped them in burlap, then clear plastic, set them in cardboard boxes with newspapers tucked around them, and lined them up in the covered patio corner…they are putting out tiny leaf buds. Fat flower buds on the big rhododendron. It has been a miserable winter but the plants have made it through. This is a relatively small but sunny urban garden devoted to herbs, roses and small fruits.

    1. Sandy says:

      Your post inspired me to get outside and start my garden spring clean. I live in Upstate NY and I am hoping I can spread it out over the next 5 weeks or so as there is a LOT to do….We have a lot of beds around the house and patios, and multiple raised beds for edibles and flowers. Forgot how tiring it can be, but a great work out! Thanks for the inspiration.

      1. margaret says:

        A LOT to do indeed, Sandy. I am picking away at what I can get to for now, but I am predicting in another week it will be full-on madness with tasks everywhere screaming out for attention.

    2. margaret says:

      Sounds like a very special moment, Suzanne. Hopefully I am not too far behind you in enjoying such tiny pleasures.

  6. Kelly Kynion says:

    Yeah, some seriously tenacious snow here, too, up on our hilltop in the Hawthorne Valley! But yesterday it started to roll back, to scenes of devastation, where the snowplow carved an extra ten feet for our muddy driveway, and there are long, deep ruts from a generator dragged for several feet during a power outage. But those ruts are where I’d thought of digging a cutting garden, so I guess the time has come!

    1. margaret says:

      Funny, Kelly, I was just staring at my generator (which weighs twice as much as I do I bet) and wondering how in the world I will push it back out of the way. Guess I will be calling a neighbor for an assist on that one!

  7. @worldsworstflipper says:

    We went from 40 to 80 in the course of two days this week. Redbuds and cherries are blooming– the earliest trees are beginning to leaf out. I’m shredding the last of the leaves and repairing paths as I watch the hosts tips emerge. I keep wandering outside even when I don’t have a task to do out of the sheer joy of it being spring here in NC.

    1. margaret says:

      I suspect that’s what will happen here, too, once the weather breaks. Much progress the last week in snow-melting…and now I think Mud Season is upon us.

  8. Cindy says:

    As a Michigander, transplanted to Florida, I understand your frustration! This may sound crazy but I miss the anticipation of waiting for the snow to melt and those first signs of Spring to emerge.
    I have learned to get along with the subtle changes of the seasons here in north Florida but miss my northern roots
    In my garden, I have snow peas growing and green beans just coming up!
    Happy Spring!

    1. margaret says:

      I could not live anywhere that didn’t have the four distinct seasons, but some years (like this one) the snow just comes too late or stays too long. :)

  9. Chris Wells says:

    I am feeling very quilty here in West Texas. My clean up month is February and vegetables plants are now in the garden. If it is any consolation, the winds have been horrendous and not much fun to be out in. Also by the time you are really enjoying summer I will be holed up in the house because it’s 100 degrees outside!
    Truly, this Ohio girl misses winter! If anyone lives in the perfect spot let me know so I can move there!

    1. margaret says:

      Can’t imagine being without a winter, Chris. I always get restless by March if we can’t work outside yet, but I am hopeless in high heat so yikes, Texas and I would not be a good match!

  10. Kristin Smith says:

    Here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we’ve not had snow for most of March, which is kind of unusual. It has also been pretty dry, which worries me. We need some rain soon. Some early crocuses are blooming and the daffodils and tulips are a few inches out of the soil. I’m very excited to do some winter clean up in my back garden, but the ground is too mushy still.

    1. margaret says:

      Mushy here, too, Kristin. I am trying to strategize how to work in areas adjacent to paths and patios and also thinking of putting down a piece of plywood to stand/kneel on by the hellebore beds!

  11. Wendy says:

    Here in the south of England, we are still coping with the ravages of the Beast from the East. Easter weekend is usually a great time to warm the soil and get tidied up, but it’s still rather cold and wet. Instead, I have planted plenty of seeds and now have no room for ornaments etc on any windowsill in the house!

    I’m attempting to build another compost bin today – rain or shine.

    1. margaret says:

      Snowing again this morning here, Wendy, just after we finally had two days where one could gingerly start attacking some of the built-up debris outside in areas where it wasn’t too muddy or still under snow. The news reports of your winter weather were shocking. Seeds do help!

  12. Sharon B. says:

    Here in Roanoke Virginia we continue with the usual wild swings of spring. Possibly more snow (but it won’t be much) this weekend — quite unusual. Still, I cleaned up my flower perennial bed last Saturday, and had previously trimmed back all the grasses and liriope. I’ve got sweet peas and poppy seedlings ready to set out. Had them in containers in the yard for some natural cold scarification through the winter. But I’m a little behind on starting seeds for summer goodies. Gotta get to it!

  13. Madeline says:

    I’m in an apartment, and they’re currently “finalizing” the requirements for a promised rooftop gardening space. I’m very suspicious and I’m pretty sure the apartment won’t actually get their act together. I couldn’t help myself from starting a few rounds of seeds, with a backup plan to take over my partner’s office patio space with a container garden worst case. I’ve already been wading through the archives here to prepare :) I daydream every day about having a “real” garden someday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.