As I trimmed back some of my aggressive growers by about half, also called the Chelsea Chop, I decided to try leave my trimmings on the ground. I did cut them into four inch pieces. While this may not be appropriate for some more manicured gardens, in this pollinator garden, it makes sense.
I have read and seen this technique online from a couple of experts and it seems to work for a Chicago Botanical garden and a KC expert – Lenora Larson.
What I like about this technique is that it avoids fertilizing, composting and adding mulch.
While you may want the outside edge of your garden to have a more kept look with nice looking new mulch, the inside can be covered with cuttings which will decay and feed the soil.
If you’re interested in starting a No-Dig garden in the spring time, early winter might be a better time using Charles Dowding’s methods. In the video below he starts a garden using just compost. The problem I have is that the compost I buy from St. Louis Composting is still quite hot when I get it and 8 to 12 inches of it would burn and probably kill new plants.
The trick is to buy it now and let it sit all winter so that it will be ready for planting in spring. Here’s is Charle’s method in the video below.
March in St. Louis is a good time to start to cleanup your gardens. It’s warm enough to work outside and most of the plants are just starting to bud out.
The first thing to do is bring your arsenal of weapons. I use lopers, hand pruners, lawn trimmer, rake, a leaf blower, hedge trimmer and even a sawzall for larger branches. Make sure you sharpen your tools before using them. I use twine to bind the larger pieces and paper recycling bags for the small stuff.
Hopefully, you will know the difference between your annuals and perennials. In general, I prefer to cut both groups off near the base and leave the roots in the soil to decay. For shallow rooted annuals, it may be easier to just pull them out of the ground.
Clean from the outside in. You want to stay off the soil as much as possible so that you don’t trample plants and compact the soil.
I cut off most plants as close to the soil as possible.
You may notice that I use concrete blocks to define my garden. I find that it has a few advantages. It helps to define the garden and slows down the bermuda grass invasion. It also catches seeds and provides a lot of new plants in the spring.
Some plants require a bit more finesse. Each plant is a bit different and you will need to know its growing habit.
Buddleia – I cut to 9″ above the ground
Hydrangea paniculata – just trim off 6″ of the top growth. I am going for a eight foot hedge.
Roses (Knock Out) – I cut back to 18″
Trees – yes I even cut back one tree, hackberry, to a six foot height.
Viburnum – cut back to keep its size in check.
I do add a layer of compost/mulch after everything is cleaned up. It not only makes things look good, but also feeds the soil. I don’t use any fertilizer. In St. Louis I like the Black Forest mulch which is fine aged mulch mixed with compost.