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Time to get your hands dirty with spring gardening tasks

During primetime spring gardening season, put your energies to work on tasks that will pay you back in beautiful, healthy plants, Lorraine Flanigan writes. Professional gardeners know that if you do these five things now, you'll lighten your load for the remainder of the season.

Primp semi-evergreen perennials

At the Halifax Public Garden, gardener Helen MacLean cuts back the older leaves of semi-evergreen perennials such as bergenia, coral bells and lady's mantle. "Winter will have burned some of the leaves, so prune them back to the stems," she advises. Not only does this improve the look of the plants, it stimulates fresh growth. "Heuchera [coral bells] grows from the top of a stalk," she explains. So "clean up" the lower leaves, mulch around the plant with compost and then new, large leaves will start to grow along the stem.

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Wither flower bulbs?

Once spring bulbs have finished flowering, resist the temptation to cut back the foliage. "The leaves will feed the plant for next year's flowers," says Sandra Pella, head gardener at the Toronto Botanical Garden. As she deadheads the spent flowers, Pella lassos the foliage of spring bulbs, using twine to tie them into upright bunches until the leaves die back naturally. The bundles look neater than sprawling leaves, and make it easier to cut the browned foliage down to the ground once it's died back completely. "This works especially well for large daffodils, hybrid tulips and alliums," she says.

Up the stakes

Without the support of stakes, hoops or loops, tall perennials, such as delphiniums, phlox, iron weed, aster, bee balm and helenium, can be a big flop in the late summer garden. It's much easier to stake them now than to wrestle with their cumbersome stems and trample the surrounding plants. Tracy Jessen, gardener at the Halifax Public Garden, uses peony rings, bamboo stakes and hoop stakes (where the open-ended hoop can be adjusted to the size of the stems) to support tall plants while they're short.

Simple division

Spring is a great time to rejuvenate perennials that have died out in the middle, overgrown their space or that are producing fewer flowers. But many ornamental grasses and perennials such as large, mature hostas can be difficult to divide. At the Toronto Botanical Garden, Pella makes this task easier by dividing the tough, matted roots of these plants while they're still in the ground. "It's easier to leave them in the ground and divide them there than to dig out the entire plant and then divide it," she says. "And it saves your back."

Slow food

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Compost is all it takes to keep even wisteria, clematis and roses blooming at the Toronto Botanical Garden. "The nutritional value lasts several years," Pella says. "We broadcast it on all our shrubs and perennial borders and the plants look clean and healthy – there's not a blemish on them."

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