Spring cleaning of flower beds


Good day,
In cleaning out some of my flower beds I don’t usually rake but try to remove certain “undesirables” such as the tar spotted Norway maple leaves and the petioles by hand.
My question is about the great number of maple samaras or wingnuts in the beds. Do these wings provide any value to the soil or should I be raking them out? I sometimes think that the wings never break down but last indefinitely.
A related question is whether it is a good idea to put a thin layer of topsoil on the beds at this time (early spring) to help break down the organic depris from last year that litters the beds?
Thank you in advance for your time.


Thank you for your questions to Toronto Master Gardeners.

It’s good to hear that you don’t rake or disturb the soil at this time of year. Pollinators and other insects and microorganisms appreciate your restraint, especially now that we are restricted to our homes and gardens.  All we should be doing now is removing large branches and litter.

Southern Ontario weather can be variable. Before deciding on what gardening chores you can do now, check the long range forecast. Look at both the daytime and night time temperatures. Excessively low night time temperatures can slow or halt plant growth. Environment Canada estimates that the last frost date for Toronto is May 9, based on a 30 year average between 1960 and 1990.

Your garden soil needs an opportunity to warm up and dry out before you start to plant, divide or move plants around. Working soil that is too wet will result in compaction. The exceptions are cool weather crops, such as spinach, that will happily germinate in cool soil. (Adapted from an answer we gave last week. This is a good time to order vegetable seeds. Many vines and veggies can be squeezed into the flower garden.)

Although the fall is the best time to add a thin layer of compost (preferable to topsoil) to the soil, it can be done in spring as well. Just be sure to keep  away from the crowns of your perennials. Resist the temptation to fork it in or aerate the soil; just let nature work it in.

About the maple tree samaras (or helicopters), these will not harm the garden. If they start bothering you by producing little maple trees in the summer, just pull them out by hand.

Enjoy the season coming soon!