Saturday, 30 April 2011

Spring Gardening

The Quick and Dirty Spring Garden Clean-Up

Who has the time? Really? As much as I find gardening soothing for my soul and helpful to my sleep, often times, I don’t have a lot of time to spend in my own garden. Gasp! I doubt you do either. So here is the short version to getting your lawn and garden up to speed and crossed off your “to do” list:

1.       Rake the grass. Simply, somewhat gently. Grass this time of year is usually wet, and anything wet tends to tear. You don’t want to damage your grass, just perk it up. Pick up the Tim Horton cups, the neighbor’s newspaper from last November and every errant leaf and piece of plastic that somehow made it to your lawn over the winter. Then fluff up the grass with your rake.

2.       Fertilize the grass.  This is pretty simple. You go to any garden center and head straight for the grass seed section and the fertilizer for your lawn will be right there. Then bring it home and apply it to your lawn according to the directions on the bag/box.

3.       Clean up the garden bed. I’m talking strictly about the mulch and soil areas. Take your hand rake and clean up all the old mulch and any garbage hanging about your plants. I like give the plants a little shake, like you would muss up a kid’s hair, just to loosen any debris and dead plant material. Herbaceous plants, those that die back after the winter, need to be trimmed too. It's as simple as snipping off the dead stems so that the new ones can grow.

After...You couldn't see the new growth before the old was chopped off.

4.       Add compost and mulch. You need to feed your plants and a little compost/manure will do the trick.  There are all sorts of manure you can buy…cow, sheep, etc. You just sprinkle a layer on your garden bed and then top it off with some fresh mulch to keep out the weeds and keep in the moisture. I prefer black mulch; I just find it looks sharp.

5.       Cut back your ornamental grasses.  Although they were so beautiful all summer and fall, now is the time to cut them back. The easiest way to do this is gather them up and tie them with twine. Then take your loppers and chop the top off about 6 to 8 inches from soil level. Don’t be afraid. It’s all dead grass. You can’t kill it.

There are some grasses that don’t need to be cut back. They are evergreen (meaning they stay green all year long, in theory) or semi-evergreen. Carex and Sedge grasses fall into this category. If your grass was green in the summer and now it’s brown and dead looking, cut it back. If it was green in the summer and stayed pretty much green all winter, leave it alone.



6.       Prune… carefully. Know what you are pruning. If you prune spring flowering shrubs first thing in the spring you won’t get any blooms, because you have just cut all the buds off. For spring blooming shrubs, like Lilac and Forsythia, wait until after they have bloomed. All other shrubs can be pruned whenever you’d like. However, it’s easier to do them in the spring before they have leafed out because you can see the structure of the shrubs.  Here is a link to an excellent article by Proven Winners on pruning:

7.       Edge the garden bed. Honestly, I hate doing this part but the garden always looks so sharp and neat after it’s done. You need a sharp square edged spaded. And it’s as simple as going around the perimeter of your garden bed and making a nice wedge cut all around. I prefer this natural edging to putting in the plastic garden edging that always seems to heave up over winter.

And you are done! Almost…

A few extra notes:

-If you live in a new subdivision and the guys with their little machines come around asking if you want your lawn aerated, say yes. Here is why: In order to build your house the contractor dug up a ridiculous amount of soil and clay. They dumped it beside what would now be your basement and carted some off. The rest they used to fill in around your foundation. For months, as they added beams and walls, trucks and more trucks have been driving up on what will one day be your front lawn. Then, sometime, seemingly years after you move in, the bobcats will be back to grade and spread a very thin layer of topsoil on your property. After that, they will lay grass and steal your sprinkler to water your neighbor’s lawn. What does this mean? It means that if you have grass that is growing and thriving it’s a miracle. But life will win out and so you probably have grass. After all, it’s a tenacious plant that often ends up where you don’t want it, like cracks in your driveway, so why not your lawn. But the soil under your grass is compacted. It’s clay that has been squished down by bobcats and now kids and dogs. Aerating pulls out little plugs of soil and grass, like a reverse hair transplant. It gives the roots of the grass some air (hence “aerating”) and room to grow. I always like to throw some grass seed over the lawn after it’s been aerated, why not? Aerating is not something you can do yourself unless you go and rent the machine from your local hardware store. And it’s not worth the cost and energy unless you and a couple of neighbors go in on it together. So just say “yes” when they come by your door.

-I often get asked “What can I plant and when?” The simple answer is: If the local nursery is selling it, it’s safe to plant now. So, that’s why there are lots of shrubs and spring bulbs out right now at the garden center. They are all safe to plant. But if you are impulsive and attracted to pretty shiny things like I am, then you’ll need to approach the nursery with care .It’s full of spring blooming shrubs right now. And it’s easy to get distracted by the flowering Forsythia and the scented Lilac, not realizing that they only bloom for a few short weeks in the spring. The rest of the growing year they will be green, simply green, a pretty green, but just green. Are you willing to give up valuable space in your garden for a few weeks of show? If so, by all means, go for it. Just remember that there are other plants that offer something for summer and fall and that they might not be available yet. I’m just putting it out there.

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