With March 20th – the first day of spring – approaching quickly, there are lots of great projects to do in the yard! Take advantage of some of this gorgeous weather we have been enjoying to get out there, breathe in some fresh air, and get some gardening exercise!
Wake Up the Lawn
If you haven’t already noticed, your lawn is looking pretty rough after the winter. Short days, snow cover followed by drought conditions, and exposure to a few days of blowing wind have left the yard looking in need of revitalizing; this is the perfect time to do just this! Rake the entire lawn with a thatch rake, careful to get down into the top inch or two of the turf and briskly pull through all of the blades of grass that are laying flat along the ground; ideally the rake tines get right through to the soil level. Thatch rakes are terrific as the rake head is adjustable, allowing you to set the ideal depth and angle; in manicured garden beds, thatch rakes can also be used to weed pesky plants like chickweed. Look for bare patches or areas in your lawn that are particularly dead-looking (dormant turf is brown, dead turf is usually yellow or white…); give these areas an even deeper raking and then top dress with top soil. If you spot any weeds like quack grass or dandelions trying to pop up, now is the time to dig them out; if your lawn last year was particularly thin or overrun with weeds, you can overseed the entire lawn with a drought tolerant grass seed blend (available for sunny or shady areas) and then spread a thin layer of topsoil over the seed. Grass seed for our area tends to germinate at just above 10degrees Celsius, so simply a sunny day or two with adequate moisture will get the grass seed going. In my own yard, I tend to use grass seed labeled as “overseeder” as it contains perennial rye grass: the hardiest of the turf grasses, this seed germinates quickly, withstands variable conditions, and serves as a great cover crop for more delicate grass plants as they emerge in the spring. Fertilizing your lawn is not necessary or recommended at this point in the year, as the fertilizer will not be adequately absorbed by the turf and will most likely run off into the sewers after our next snow/rain. The best time to fertilize your yard in spring is when the turf is actively growing…look to mid-April to fertilize.
Clean up the Flowerbeds
Like the lawn, the flowerbeds will be looking a bit disheveled. Grab a wheelbarrow and pruning shears and collect all of the dead leaves from last year’s perennials (careful not to pull too hard or cut too low to soil level as you may accidentally break the crowns of the plants beneath the ground), trim up any broken branches from your trees and shrubs, and prune any of your non-blooming trees and/or shrubbery for shape if you like. It is typically not a good idea to spring-prune flowering trees/shrubs as you more often than not will be cutting off the flower starts that were set last fall. (If you have a rose, a lilac, a hawthorne, etc. that just refuses to bloom year after year, and you have been spring-pruning these plants, this is why…these plants are best pruned after blooming.) As you work in the flowerbeds, look for any signs of bugs and disease; how simple it is to just remove an ant hill now (you will be able to spot the mounded, porous soil) as opposed to nuking it later in the spring with everything under the kitchen sink. As in previous years, there is a very good chance that your municipality will be enforcing watering bans throughout the spring and summer; now is the time to get extra moisture locked into your garden beds by adding compost or composted manure to your beds. Typically applied 2-3in deep, adding these types of organics to your beds dramatically increases beneficial microbial count (the microscopic good guys that do all of the work in the soil, allowing your plants to thrive), adds volume and tilth to your soil, and greatly reduces the evaporation rate of the soil. If your soil tends to be alkaline with low porosity (PH of higher than 7 with fine particulates such as clay), apply clay buster compost. If your soil has good porosity with a PH in the 5.5-7 range, a simple, sterilized organic compost is adequate. Never apply mushroom manure as it is too high in salt for our area and tends to harbor scab pathogens.
Try to find your Eavestrough
If you are anything like me, you meant to clean out your eavestroughs last fall and never got around to it. The time to get at it is now before we get a bunch of wet spring snow or rain showers. Make sure you get your downspouts facing away from the house and that any obstructions to the flow of water are removed. If you were one of the many that had troubles with sump pumps last year, now is a good time to address this as well. Water laying around the foundation of a house is a sure recipe for trouble, as basements can flood and concrete becomes compromised and may break down. While you are out working around and on the house, it is also a good idea to check all of your basement window wells and make sure that the metal integrity of the casing is in tact (not bent over, as water will find its way in), that the drain is clear (if there is one there; it often looks like a wide tube of black pipe), and that the drainage rock is topped up to at least 2in below the upper rim of the metal encasement. Simply taking an hour or two to do a bit of exterior house work here can save you numerous hours (and dollars!) trying to remedy problems later on.
Last fall, I had the pleasure of chewing the fat with one of the oldest farmers I ever met. At a spry 86 years old, this kindly old gentleman had such a wonderful persona and presence; a quick look into his eyes revealed decades of experience and knowledge. We were talking about the struggle of the modern farmer trying to earn a living with increasing costs (and this guy was born in the 30’s…he knew something about struggling to make ends meet); after several minutes of discussion, I quipped that even the worst of situations can usually be made better, and that “hope springs eternal.” This great, seasoned farmer smiled broadly, turned his face sunward, closed his eyes and replied, “Yes, I hope spring is eternal!” Six months later and I am still smiling at the pragmatic humor of this farmer…here is to a spring full of “eternal” wonder and fun, no matter what your age!