Preparing Your Garden for Spring

Photo by Mike TschappatCutting back dried stems and leaves allows fresh growth to flourish in your garden. Photo by Mike Tschappat

We celebrate our gardens year-round at the High Line, paying special attention to the beauty of untouched perennials in the autumn and winter, and preparing for the burst of growth in the spring and array of colors throughout the summer. Here are some ways we prepare the gardens in spring.

Herbaceous Perennials and Grasses

The winter display of perennials is our specialty on the High Line, and we leave the spent stems and leaves of the perennials and grasses to add beauty and interest to our garden in the colder months. The roots of the plants store the previous season’s accumulated energy, which they'll use when sprouting new growth this spring. But now that spring is arriving, these older stems need to be removed.

EnlargePhoto by Beverly Israely

Before you begin, be sure to clean and sharpen your pruners and other cutting tools. Wearing gloves will protect hands from the rough plants and from sharp tools. When using your tools, stay aware of what you are cutting and watch your fingers and hands to avoid injuring cuts. Cut back the plants three to five inches from the ground. It is important to not cut too low to scalp the plant's crown, which is the part of the plant close to the ground where the stems emerge. Make level, clean cuts to ensure that even growth will emerge from the top of the plant. Make even, smooth, controlled motions; avoid hacking and making rough cuts as it is both unhealthy for the plant and tough on your arms and wrists. Use small gardening scissors to neatly trim up loose bits around the newly cut stems.

If you have bulbs in your garden like we do, be careful to avoid stepping on or cutting early emerging shoots. It is amazing to discover what is already green and growing when cleaning up the garden.

Woody Perennials and Shrubs

Subshrubs like lavender and Russian sage should get minimal trimming to remove spent flowers and tidy up the shape, but avoid cutting too much or chopping to the ground as this will kill the plant. On the High Line we have a wonderful subshrub called leadplant (Amorpha canescens) that we only lightly trim in spring when the first new growth is observed.

With the abundance of vines, shrubs, and trees in the garden I recommend consulting a favorite garden reference to guide your pruning care. It is also good to remove any dead and broken branches.

Enjoy the emergence of spring!

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