We began spring cleanup in the OPC garden a week or so ago. Mother Nature was still playing tricks as the 45-degree temperatures and sun came with fierce gusts of wind, so our stay was somewhat short. 

We did take time to walk the grounds and survey the damage. Because of  the extended cold weather, many of perennials have yet to show spring growth, so we left the stems of the cone flowers intact. We spent our time taking out all the dead annual plant material left behind when winter weather arrived overnight and drove us out of the garden last fall.    

Gardener and educator extraordinaire Janet Maconovich said in one of her recent lectures southeastern Michigan is currently about 4 weeks behind weather-wise. 

Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum) are very shallow rooted and many of ours heaved out of the ground during the winter.

The good news is they are tough little critters and can survive some pretty rough treatment. The outer leaves of the plant, often called a rosette, may be dry and crispy, but if the center leaves retain their color and puffy leaf texture, there is still life in the little guys. So, if the plant still shows color, I just stick it back in the soil. Later, when the weather and soil warm up I’ll pull it out and cut away the dead leaves.

If you have planted Hens and Chicks in shallow containers consider covering them or moving them to a protected area when heavy spring rains arrive. A partially frozen dish shaped pot may hold water and that will spell death to Sempervivums. These plants are very light feeders so in a couple of weeks I’ll sprinkle a little granular organic fertilizer on the surface of the soil around them. 

Hardy Hibiscus are very slow to emerge in spring, usually around the first week of June.  At the OPC garden we leave the thick stems in tact during the winter and into spring to mark the placement of these beauties that show no signs of life.  I don’t want anyone to think that large bare spot is up for adoption and mistakenly plant something there. 

Our hardy mums are beginning to show a bit of green, so last week we cut back the dead growth, taking care not to disturb the roots. 

It’s tempting to go after the roses but I adhere to the adage that they should be pruned when the forsythia bloom. Cut them back too early and a spring freeze will kill the exposed live growth. 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at



Read or Share this story: