A fellow gardener emailed me earlier this week:
Oh cold climate wise one, Have you seen the forecast for Friday?! Snow and lows in the high teens. What does this mean for all the little perennials I’ve pulled leaf mulch off of? Should it go back on? I’m really looking forward to actual gardening this weekend, but Friday is a bummer!
As I mentioned last year, if you live in a cold climate, you really don’t want to uncover every plant on the first mild day, because, as you’ve discovered, there are sure to be more wintry days before spring is truly here. (Ahem. Do you remember that hard freeze we had in late May last year?)
Clean Up the Pretty Views
The fact is, most plants can grow through whatever mulch or dead plant growth that happens to be laying around. There are two primary reasons for spring clean-up: aesthetics and rodent control. Using this criteria, the first places I clean up are the locations where I know the earliest spring bulbs are coming up. The window of opportunity (WOO) for this is pretty narrow, because before you know it, they are too far along to pull a rake over them. For the same reason, I tidy up the areas I can see from inside the house, so even on cold, blustery days the view outside looks good.
Clean Up the Rodent Hideouts
I do have an extensive vole population in my garden, so I try to keep my eye out for vole holes and tunnels, and uncover them, removing the plant debris. My hope is that without the benefit of cover, the voles will be easier prey for their predators. I have to admit I don’t know if there are enough predators around here to make a difference, but I do what I can to make it easier for them.
Search Out and Destroy the Weeds
Of course, the same mulch that protects your garden plants also shelters the weeds. In early spring, I sometimes remove the mulch (or last year’s garden remains), pull the weeds, and put the mulch back. That’s assuming that the soil has thawed enough to remove them, as it already has this year. I avoid stepping on the soil as it is still quite sodden and stepping on it will compact it.
Try Not to Fret
Most established plants in your garden should be fine, covered or not, unless you have a severe case of zone denial, or we get some really out-of-season weather, like that freeze last May. If you have anything that you planted just last fall, or that you especially prize–I’d leave that covered for at least another month, perhaps to the first week of May. For me, that’s four to five weeks before the last frost. Ideally, you’d take it off in stages, but it’s really a judgment call, balancing the time you have, the expected weather in the near future, how far along the plant is and your gardener’s instinct.