Tidying Up Your Garden Borders

Garden Border Tidy Up

It was a pleasant, sunny, late February day today, so I thought I’d take advantage of the sunshine and do a leaflet drop in the Burton area. Burton lies just north of Christchurch, on the way to Ringwood and has a really diverse range of properties and gardens.

One thing I’ve learnt about posting leaflets, is that you never quite know which of the houses will respond and give you a call. It’s common to get at least one call for a quote, which I did today, with others following over the next few days.

Some may think it a slog to drop their own leaflets, they might prefer to use a 3rd party but, trust me, if I really want to get a closer look at my potential client base, I prefer to do them myself.

One thing I did notice is that quite a few of the properties had really well maintained front gardens. There were quite a few of them that were mostly drive ways but still quite a few, with a fair bit of green. This might put some people off as it would be easy to think that if a garden is well maintained, the people who live there, are already on top of it. And whilst this is true in the main, you never know if the work you are admiring, has been done by the home owner, or a professional like me. So it’s always worth posting one through the door.

One thing I did notice with quite a few of the gardens (including the one who called and accepted my quote) was that because we have had such a mild winter, many plants were already growing at pace. The problem is, some of the people hadn’t cleared their garden borders, so bulbs and early spring flowers were struggling to push through. Leaves, debris, weeds, dead plants, small bits of litter and all manor of objects that the wind had picked up, were crowding their borders, limiting growth and possibly even affecting sunlight reaching some of the smaller plants.

Not only that but there were Hydrangeas crying out to be pruned. Fresh buds were already fizzing open, while last years heads still hadn’t been removed. And although this won’t cause any long term damage, they would absolutely thrive with a decent pruning.

Some people think that tidying garden borders is a bit of a task. It usually involves getting down on your knees at some point and doesn’t involve using any exciting power tools. However, it’s actually quite a relaxing process and it also gives you a chance to get up close to your plants, to give them a good inspection.

So with that in mind, lets take a look at a few things you can do in late winter and early spring, to help your borders thrive over the growing season.


By now, your plants will have ended their period of inactivity and will be starting to bud or even bloom. If you have any Hydrangeas or similar plants, check the stems to see if the buds are present and of a decent size. How far you cut back your hydrangeas is up to you but I always look for what I call a dominant bud. This may be the first one back or 2nd or 3rd. Either way, try to prune back to something that looks healthy.

Some Hydrangeas bud on new wood, some on old wood and some on both. By waiting for your buds to be present, you won’t have to worry if you are pruning back the wrong kind of wood, it will be obvious, because the buds are there smiling at you.  How far you cut back will be dependant on the existing size and what kind of height and shape you are looking for but if you look for those healthy looking buds, you can’t go wrong.

You’ll probably notice that some of your evergreens, already have new growth. Again, if you haven’t pruned these already, have a think about how far back you want to go and the overall shape you are looking for. These shrubs are usually pretty hardy, so as long as you don’t go to crazy, they will recover very quickly.

 Plant health & feeding:

As you know, England sees a fair amount of rain in March and April, so after pruning, it’s a great time to scatter some organic, slow release fertiliser to the soil around your plants. Unlike liquid fertilisers, these take longer to break down and will give a slow release of nutrients to your plants. If you have your own compost, created from products of your own garden, you probably won’t need any other type of feed as a once a year application of good compost, is enough for any garden borders.

One of the things I have noticed, is that people in my area, have a strong attachment to Rhododendrons. Its probably a throwback to childhood and seeing those amazing blooms puffing out in all their glory during the spring. However, the soil in this area is quite alkaline, with a PH value of usually 6-6.5 and these plants are acid lovers. Today alone, I saw around 30-40 Rhodies struggling to thrive, including one that my new client showed me. It’s 15 years old and although it is still alive, it’s never grown and only blooms ad hoc.

If you have any Rhododendrons or any other ericaceous  plants (Camellia, Azalea etc.) You can either add some Peat Moss to your soil to boost the acidity levels or try some liquid or slow release ericaceous feed. You could also dig it up and plant it in a new location, in ericaceous compost. Many people buy their Rhododendrons in pots, which will already be full of ericaceous compost, the problem is, they then plant them in the garden and witness a slow decline.

Use your border tidying time to check the overall health of your plants. Are they getting enough light, food, water? If in doubt, consider moving them to an area with less competition and which is more favourable.


Weeds can be cunning little fellows, they often burst into life very early in the year and start to dominate your borders very quickly. Don’t wait for them to get to an annoying size, get them out early. Sure, you won’t get every single one of them this time of year and more will appear during the growing season but the sooner you start pulling them out, the better.

One thing with flowering weeds, is that they often flower quite early. This gives the bees an early feed but also ensures that they can get themselves established before many of your other plants have started to bloom. Getting them out before they flower, will force the bees to move on to the plants you want to keep and limit the pollination.

Removing Debris:

OK, so this is exactly what it says on the tin and doesn’t really need any explanation. If you want to leave some garden matter as mulch, that’s no problem as long as it’s not unsightly or is cluttering your border. Obviously anything that isn’t able to decompose, should be removed immediately.

Future Planning:

One of the great things about getting up close and personal with your borders and giving them a good tidy is that you will quickly get a clear picture of what plants you might want to add, remove or change location. Once all of the leaves, weeds, debris etc. is removed, you’ll get a real good look at what you are left with.

Once you know what you are working with, it’s so much easier to plan for. You’ll know what is thriving, what needs a little work and even have to take on the chin the odd failure. By understanding which plants are doing well, it will help you make good decisions going forward and if you have plants that are struggling, you know to avoid those in the future.

Tidying up your garden borders isn’t a particularly thrilling thing to do but it can be very relaxing. Not only that but as you can see from the few examples I have given, it does give you a chance to get a really good look at what you have.

Not only that but by carrying out this work, you will be helping your existing plants thrive whilst getting a glimpse of where you might want to go in the future.