Can you begin garden clean up and start gardening in early March?


I am getting eager to start cleaning up my four raised beds and gardens and start gardening. What can one reasonably get started on this time of year? Is there any harm in cutting back dead leaves and stems that will not support new growth in the spring? Should we clear away dead leaves in beds to give easier access to new shoots? Can I cut back a huge mum perennial that is brown and dead and taking up a ton of space? Anything that can be planted with the ground still hard and snow on the way, but with spring coming soon?


Lynne M. Holland, Horticulture and Social Media Professional

I can totally understand your eagerness to get out into the garden again. There is a meme out there that characterized the seasons in Maine and we are currently in “False Spring” (or second False Spring if you count the mini warm spell a few weeks ago) That being said there are some things you can do in the garden. Anything you attempt to do in the next 3-4 weeks should always be judged with the following criteria in mind:

  • Is the ground still frozen? If so, don’t start digging.
  • Is there standing water or soggy ground in the way? If so, stay off that ground or you could compact it.
  • Are temperatures going to stay above 20 degrees? If not, then don’t uncover plants or they may freeze.
  • Is it windy? If so, then plants will start to dry out so leave some of the winter duff around them to protect them.

Nature uses the dead growth from last year to protect and insulate the new shoots of spring. If you cut away all the dead growth on perennial plants and temps drop below 20 degrees you stand the chance of freezing the new buds or disturbing beneficial insects nesting there. Be patient and wait until we have temps staying above 20 degrees, even at night for a couple of weeks before starting garden clean up.

If you have fruit trees, bushes or ornamental trees that need pruning now is the time to do that. As long as the ground is frozen you will have solid footing and you will not risk compacting soil. That means blooming shrubs like forsythia (put the pruned branches in a vase and force the flowers indoors), fruits like berries and grapes, and trees that bloom. Also, check your yard for Browntail Moth nests and prune them out as well.

Lastly, look to the Maine Home Garden News for ideas. “What to do in the Garden this Month” is a regular feature. Sign up for a free subscription and check out the archives for inspiration and advice through the seasons.

Sometimes pacing yourself is the best thing you can do. Start stretching and training for the physical work ahead in the garden now, your back and knees will thank you.