Finishing touches on garden cleanup leaves muscles sore
Published 9:43 am Wednesday, April 5, 2023
Poor aching back and arm muscles. And sunburnt nose. Putting the finishing touches on cleaning up the garden after a disastrous winter and readying it for a for summer was rough on this old gardener’s body.
But I got it done, and basking in the afterglow of a hot shower that soothed the bones followed by a quiet garden walkabout to review how much better everything looks after a good Etch-a-Sketch shaking out.
Maybe there are some lessons here, or at least a review, for other gardeners. There is a lot of confusion about how to handle the damage our shrubs, vines, and flowers were hit with by the triple whammy of a too-early hard freeze before plants were properly hardened for winter, a too-warm spell that fooled a lot of plants into doing April stuff in March, then a late freeze that wasted the tender too-early growth.
I have never seen this much damage, especially to browned or defoliated azaleas, Loropetalums, sweet olive, Gardenia, figs, Cleyera, Ligustrum, and even Nandina, along with Asiatic and star jasmines. Most of the damage is now apparent, with many plants already sprouting new growth; however, I am still seeing some show up, mostly on plants with new growth on upper stems withering because of severely damaged lower stems.
All I can do in my own garden is start cutting, after scratching bark to make sure it is bright green and alive right underneath. Because I don’t have a chain saw, to remove thick stems I used a curved-blade pruning saw that cut surprisingly easily with less effort when pulled rather than pushed, and a long-handled lopper for branches bigger around than my finger. My prized Felco hand pruners made neat work of everything else.
Those tools are what I call quintessential – perfectly apt for doing just one or two things so well I don’t know how I could garden without them; for most, I am the only moving part. I learned long ago that with tools you get what you pay for; skimping on price means reduced quality and use.
Other tools I use frequently include a sturdy digging spade with its flat, squared-off, easily-sharpened blade for slicing through roots and separating plants; a regular shovel with its long handle for better leverage and curved scoop-like blade for moving soil and compost; a triangular-blade hoe for easily scraping surface weeds around other plants; a flat file for keeping a knife edge on my spade, shovel, and hoe; and my great-grandmother’s small, well-balanced garden fork, perfect for fluffing soil between plants and working compost and old mulch into my raised bed gardens, negating the need for a tiller.
I haul a lot of stuff in my five-gallon bucket, appreciate my expensive hose, and the leather garden gloves that protect my hands from scrapes and scratches. But last summer I added a new labor-saving device, a sturdy tarpaulin for piling and dragging trimmings and weeds to my “nature pile” which replaced my folks’ traditional burn pile where everything used to be incinerated. The nature pile is a rich habitat for beneficial critters and includes small logs where over a dozen different species of extremely productive native bees drill solitary nest holes. The pile looks unruly, but I made it look more purposeful by hiding it behind a section of split rail fence and some colorful bird houses.
Wish all this was as easy to do as it is to write about. But it’s done, things are neater again, and I already have summer veggies, herbs, and flowers snuggled in. Bring on spring and summer!
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to email@example.com.