During my first spring workday in the garden this weekend, my perennial garden received a major cleanup and haircut. It looks quite barren but for the snowdrops, crocus and the green tips of daffodils poking up. Cutting back the grasses is the hard part. I’ve enjoyed their taupy forms all winter and now they look a bit like stumps. Over the years I have figured out the easiest way (quickest cleanup) to cut them back is to tie up all the grassy blades with a bungy cord and use my hedge trimmers to cut the bundle in one level sweep. On the Highline garden in NYC the crews have been working since the last snow melted and the first little species tulips (Tulipa turkestanica) are blooming among these grassy “stumps”.
As the weather warms in late winter it is time to evaluate what damage the season has done to flowering shrubs and trees and an ideal time for pruning any dead, diseased and damaged stems or branches in the garden. As a reward, I often cut some branches for forcing into flower indoors. Forsythia is the simplest to force into bloom indoors at any time during the winter. But my favorite are the branches of the Eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis). After bringing them indoors I recut the branches and also make a vertical cut into the stem. I then arrange them immediately into a vase of warm water making sure to change the water regularly during the several weeks it takes before the flower buds open.