Maintaining Beauty: How Seasonal Cleanups Lead to Happier, Healthier Gardens

There are few things more satisfying than helping a landscape develop over the course of the year. Watching plants mature and grow to complement hardscape elements is a rewarding experience. It takes diligent planning, routine maintenance, and lots of expertise to create and manage an attractive and cohesive outdoor space. Even the most sustainable, low-maintenance garden designs require regular care to continue looking their best.

Investing in seasonal cleanups is one of the easiest ways to ensure that your landscape performs as expected throughout the growing season. Whether you’re tending an established planting bed or are cultivating a newly installed garden, routine seasonal maintenance is of the utmost importance.

Landscape maintenance experts recommend three cleanups each year for most properties: one in the spring, one in the summer, and one in the fall. Slightly different services are rendered during each season’s cleanup, resulting in a cohesive service plan that optimizes a landscape’s beauty and maintains plant health.

Benefits of a Spring Cleanup

Spring is a critical time for plant health in Northeast Illinois. Ensuring that plants are given appropriate care during the spring season will help them thrive in the summer and fall. While every property requires a slightly specialized range of services, here’s what you should expect from a professional spring cleanup service:
  • Removal of winter debris: Over the course of a Lincoln Park, Illinois winter, there’s a large amount of debris that will blow around and accumulate, often in planting beds. It’s important to remove excessive debris from your landscape before plants begin their most active period of growth. Excessive debris makes it difficult for plants to emerge from dormancy.
  • Pruning and shaping: For many perennial plants, it’s considered best practice to leave the stems intact over the winter. This insulates the crown of the plant through the coldest months of the year and provides space for beneficial insects to hibernate. In the spring, dead tissue needs to be removed to make room for new growth.
  • Mulch application: Applying fresh mulch in the spring will help reduce weed emergence later in the season, and also improve moisture retention in the soil. The best mulch options for most properties in the Chicago area include pulverized hardwood mulch and organic leaf mulch. A landscape maintenance expert will help you determine the best type of mulch for your beds.

Benefits of a Summer Cleanup

Summer cleanups also offer significant benefits to property owners who value their landscape maintenance, especially if they don’t receive regular garden care during the season. Here are a few of the essential services performed during a summer cleanup:
  • Weed abatement: Weed growth is particularly intense in the late spring and throughout early summer. Landscape maintenance professionals will remove weeds using the most effective methods for long-term control. As planting beds become more established with the help of routine seasonal care, weed populations can become easier to manage.
  • Pest and disease monitoring: A summer cleanup offers an opportunity to observe pest or disease issues that might impact a garden’s health. Landscape maintenance experts will examine plants for problems like fungal and bacterial infections, insect infestations, and rodent-related damage. We can then recommend the best course of action to treat the plants before long-term damage occurs.
  • Deadheading, shaping & pruning: Many spring and early summer blooming plants will bloom again later in the season with proper care and attention. Removing spent flowerheads, called ‘deadheading,’ may encourage the plant to bloom again during the season. Certain plants can be kept tidy and maintain more attractive habits when they receive targeted, precise pruning in the summer. This is something our garden care team will discuss with you, as there are also many plants that can benefit native wildlife and pollinator populations by abstaining from deadheading. Summer pruning should be done on shrubs that bloom on old wood. For instance, Oak Leaf Hydrangeas and Lilacs bloom on the previous season’s growth and pruning in the spring would remove the flower buds! Therefore, these shrubs should be pruned right after they flower to prevent removal of next spring’s flowers.

Benefits of a Fall Cleanup

As the growing season winds down and plants begin to enter dormancy, they need a bit of extra attention to help them survive the harsh Illinois winter. Here’s what you can expect from a fall cleanup service provided by landscape maintenance professionals:
    • Shrub & perennial winterization: Fall and winter is the best time to perform structural pruning on shrubs and small trees. It is often the best time to get a good view of the interior structure of the plants as leaves begin to drop. It is also a good time to remove larger portions of the shrub for controlling size and overgrowth, as the plant will soon be entering dormancy.
    • Tree wrapping: During a fall cleanup, sensitive trees, like containerized evergreens, may be wrapped in burlap. This can prevent tissue desiccation caused by dry winter winds. This is the primary cause of evergreen ‘bronzing,’ commonly seen in the Chicago area, that results in dull foliage and unsightly brown or orange patches that appear in trees or shrubs. Wrapping sensitive trees can help them stay glossy and green.
    • Leaf removal: An additional component of fall landscape maintenance is leaf removal or management. Removing the bulk of leaf debris in autumn reduces the amount of litter that may blow around the yard and accumulate during the winter season. This practice results in a much neater and tidier appearance. Removing leaf debris can prevent foliar fungal infections from persisting through to the next season if there was a fungal infection present during the growing season. Leaf debris removal for disease control is more important for plants such as Roses, Crabapples, and Hawthorns. For many gardens, however, leaf debris is a natural mulch, and with careful planning and management leaf debris can be maintained in the garden as a free and natural soil amendment. Our team will discuss these options on how best to manage leaf litter and debris while maintaining a base in environmental sustainability and stewardship.

Additional mulch may be applied in the fall to help insulate the crowns of tender plants through the winter. A landscape maintenance expert can help you determine whether an additional mulch application is necessary in the fall.

Nathan Wright Landscape Design is a full-service landscape design, build, and maintain company. We specialize in perennial plantings that offer naturalistic elegance and require sustainable maintenance. Whether you’re hoping to reimagine your outdoor space or are looking for a team of experts to help maintain your landscape, we’re here to help. Reach out today to schedule your next seasonal cleanup and learn more about our range of landscape design, build, and maintain services.