Let the Cleanup Begin!

I did very little to clean up the garden last Fall. Part of it was lack of time as I was really busy with work, and the other part of it was lack of desire. Oh, it's not that I don't like cleaning up the yard: raking leaves, pulling down dead vines, cutting down dormant perennials, etc. I do enjoy it. I just don't want to do it. I like looking at dead plant matter over the winter.



I mean, look at that color! Besides all of the beautiful shades of brown, I've just spent five months or so building up "walls" of ornamental grasses, flowers, and shrubs so I'd have something interesting to look at and walk around in. Why would I want to get rid of all that and look at a boring, flat yard (relatively speaking) for five more months? Plus, all of that material provides food and shelter for birds and other wildlife, acts as a windbreak for surrounding plants, helps provide an extra bit of winter hardiness to many plants, and often makes a really cool sound when the wind blows.



Ok, I hear the argument that leaving all of that material over the winter will potentially help promote the growth of various fungi and diseases. I don't have big problems with either, and the problems I do have (can you say "powdery mildew"?) are manageable, but even then I don't think I'd give up the winter interest these plants provide. The consequence of doing very little in the Fall though is that you have *much* more to do in the Spring (or late Winter), and that time is now, so let the work begin!

If I tried to go out into the yard and clean up everything at once, it would probably take me a weekend of long hours to get it all done, and I'd just be exhausted and stressed. I'd much rather break the huge job up into several smaller jobs that I can tackle every day; an hour here and there for a week is much more bearable than killing a whole weekend. Plus the weather is unpredictable at this time of year, and if it's 70ºF and sunny on Tuesday, that's a good time to get some work in, as it may be 45ºF and raining on the weekend. So here's the first area I'm going to tackle:



It's a small pergola next to the driveway. Covered with dead (of course) Cypress and Hyacinth bean vines, the pergola is over some perennials and annuals in the raised bed (or "box" as I call it), and surrounded by ornamental grasses and scattered annuals. It's quite similar to most of my non-bamboo planting beds: vines, perennials, annuals and grasses. Well, nothing to do except start yanking down vines. I've grown the Cypress vines for three or four years now, and at first I was concerned about the number of seeds that rained down during cleanup, but now I've realized that there's absolutely nothing I can do to stop the rampant reseeding, so I just pull with wild abandon, making sure to keep my eyes and mouth closed when I do.



This is the Hyacinth bean vine. It is not fun (to remove I mean. The live plant is loads of fun!) The Cypress stems were thin, weak, and crumbly and could easily be cleaned from the guide wires; the Hyacinth bean is thick, woody, stringy, and strong. It took me ten minutes to clear off the bottom three feet of this wire. I will definitely be growing this again though. Really beautiful! Cypress vine too -- nice feathery foliage, hummingbirds and bees love them both too:


(Going from the browns to the greens always shocks me! How quickly I forget that everything was so lush and verdant just a few months ago.) So the vines are gone, and now it's on to the other side of the box:


Ok, it's not as bad as it looks. That's really only three smallish ornamental grasses and a couple of pots. The grasses are easy (at least when they're this size) so grab the loppers and start cutting. I leave about 4 inches at the base -- more for larger grasses, a little less for smaller ones. One of these grasses is a Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' (common name "purple fountain grass") which is not hardy here in St. Louis, especially with the extra-cold winter we've had this year. But when I chopped into it I saw green:


Maybe that's just the color it turns when it dies, but I'm leaving it in the ground to see what happens. I've overwintered several small divisions of this grass indoors, and they can reach a surprisingly large size in just one growing season, but I'd love to see what one does in its second year.

Anyway, a little more lopping, a bit of raking, and this task is finished!



As far as areas to clean up go, that's one down, a dozen or so left to go. Actually, I didn't stop to count. I'd rather just keep nibbling away at it every day. Thinking that I may be only 5% finished is just no fun.

How much time did it take?  1:00 (About an hour)
Total time spent on clean-up so far this year: 1:00 (1 hour) 

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