The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 20, 2007


Spring clean-up of the rotary

No leaves on the trees. Lots of brown debris on the ground and only a few flashes of color from the earliest spring bulbs. This is spring clean-up time! Mushy brown leaves and stalks from last year can be left in place, as certainly in nature there is no one to come along and sweep them away, but for tidy gardeners the best practice is to snap these off or prune them to the ground to make ready for this year's growth. By far the quickest technique is to use a downward tug with gloved hands to snap of the dead growth by the handful. Most daylilies, hosta, and a wide variety of perennials can be snapped off at the base with no damage at all to the emerging plant. A few, such as peonies, are too tough and stringy and need to be clipped off with pruners.

All these sweepings and clippings become perfect fodder for the compost pile. Alternatively they can be tossed into the woods or swept underneath large shrubs where they will make a natural mulch. Leaves, twigs and pine cones should be swept off the lawn, as the grass is happy to get the sunshine at this time of year. If debris is left too long and the grass under it dies in small patches, then it will be dandelions and other weeds that will fill in that dead spot. Even though a country lawn need not be perfectly manicured, there is no need to encourage weed growth.

Every April a group of Carlisle Garden Club members risk life and limb to tidy up the rotary in time for the Patriot's Day festivities. It is rather disturbing to see the ruts of truck tires clearly marking that some large trucks do not acknowledge the boundaries of the granite curbing. How is it that truck drivers can back into a delivery space with one inch clearance on both sides and yet manage to hit large rocks and shrubs three feet back from the rotary edge?

This year the rotary clean-up day came the morning after a superb Carlisle Garden Club speaker talked about pruning. Richard Stromberg, former manager of the Harvard University research greenhouses in Cambridge, with his excellent why and how-to talk and slide show, gave the rotary clean-up crew the courage to prune some healthy, but oversized junipers back to a manageable size. No tip pruning allowed, only purposeful back-to-the-main-stem shaping cuts. Hannelore Munson was worried about our decision to decapitate the tall cypress, but agreed afterwards that it would never be noticed and was the right thing to do. Jane Anderson, civic chair, did the actual scary cutting. We all approved and convinced ourselves that low plantings and clear sight lines were all for the public good.

The ornamental grass in the rotary looks good from June to April. The one maintenance chore needed for all ornamental grass is a buzz cut in early spring. As the grasses in the rotary are now several years old, the clumps are really thick and healthy. We used a pruning saw to tackle the job. Liz Nields and Cindy Craft worked with Cecile Sandwen to clip, sweep, prune, and rake all the ornamental grass and shrub pruning debris from the rotary. Many passing drivers rolled down their windows to shout encouraging words to us as we worked. It only took an hour and a half for the seven of us to clean up the rotary plantings. I think the Goddess of Liberty approved of our work. Was she smiling and nodding as we talked about the possibility of moving three shrubs that intrude on the space in front of her pedestal?

It was rather astonishing to see the quantity of "stuff" we removed from the rotary. None of us had a pick-up truck nor relished the thought of carting sticks and leaves in our vehicles. Casey Smith across the street came to our rescue with a kind offer to let us put the organic debris in a hidden corner of her back yard where it will over time return to the soil. We also took up Larry Bearfield's generous offer for a free drink of Ferns' delicious coffee. The busy members of the Carlisle Garden Club managed to squeeze in this clean-up chore on one of the few nippy but dry mornings of early April.

Why not take advantage of the next dry but chilly day to prune back your own shrubs, rake the lawn and tidy up those plant beds?

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito