Here’s an informative article on maintaining a beautiful yard by the editors of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR LAWN AND GARDEN FOR SPRING.
What should you do to get your yard ready for spring? Winter weather can leave your grass, shrubs, and trees weak and hungry. Here are 10 steps to transform your lawn and garden in spring 2019!
You put a lot into your home and property, so take a weekend or two to roll up your sleeves and get outside!
1. CLEAN UP LEAVES FIRST
Even if you cleaned up the leaves in the fall, there are many trees (such as oaks) that shed over the winter and well into spring. It’s important to remove remove layers of leaves that can lead to grass mold or decay.
If you have a compost pile (or want to start one!), add those leaves to the pile; they’re excellent organic material for plant beds and mulch.
2. RAKE AWAY THATCH
After cleaning up the leaves, rake away thatch and any grass blades that have died over the winter. You don’t want more than ½-inch of thatch on the ground. If you have snow in your region, you may spot some matted patches. Rake them. If your ground is wet, be careful or you may dig up grass seed. Wait until a drier day.
3. GET RID OF YARD WEEDS—EARLY
Weeds will only get worse as daylight hours increase during summer. Deal with weeds in early spring. As they grow, their roots will strengthen and they will be very difficult to pull out.
The best way to minimize weeds in your lawn is through good cultural practices. Do not mow too short, skip fertilization, and and over- or under-water. You can also devote some of your lawn to wildflowers.
For those readers who wish to grow lawn grasses and not allow aggressive weeds to take over, here are the steps to take:
You don’t want crabgrass to come up or you will be fighting it all season. Very early in the spring, apply a “pre-emergent” herbicide that will inhibit the type of weed seeds which geminated in the winter.
The best time to apply a pre-emergent is when the temperature in the top one inch of soil has been 55 degrees F for five consecutive days. Once the soil temperatures reach 55 degrees, annual weed seeds begin to germinate. Once you can see weeds in your lawn, a pre-emergent herbicide is not effective.
For most U.S. regions and southern Canadian regions, these soil temperatures are reached from March to April. However, this year, the soil has warmed up much earlier than normal. Consult your local county extension service to get up to date soil temperatures in your area.
Broadleaf weeds are among the most troublesome problems in lawns. The seeds of broadleaf weeds occur naturally in all soils, and can persist for 30 or more years. Most broadleaf weeds are prolific, producing thousands of seeds per plant.
If you see weeds emerge in the spring, you can spray a post-emergent herbicide (like this one from Gordon’s USA). Wait to apply broadleaf weed killer until late spring after the weeds have flowered. (Often this is 6 to 8 weeks after a pre-emergent herbicide.) Weed killers are most effective when applied evenly over the entire lawn.
A word on dandelions: A common perennial weed in early spring, dandelions can also be dug out by their roots—or, just enjoy their yellow blooms. If you are maintaining a yard without chemicals, you could always harvest dandelion greens when young and tender! Note: Snap off dandelion heads before they seed if you don’t want more dandelions next year.
4. LOOSEN THE SOIL IN GARDEN BEDS
Do you have flower beds? After the winter, the soil in your garden beds may be completely compacted. It’s important to loosen the soil to help oxygen reach the plants roots. You can use hand tools for small areas, but larger areas may benefit from tiller.
A grass lawn also gets compacted soil, especially if people walk on it. If you see patches of moss or signs of decline, we would advise aerating the lawn. However, this is usually best done in the fall. Plan to rent a lawn aerator at your local home improvement store.
Moss can also mean that your lawn is getting acidic. If you are growing grass, the goal is a neutral pH. Get a soil test (often free or done for a small fee through your local County Cooperative Extension office). If your lawn is acidic, you’ll need to apply lime to it; the Extension folks can advise you.
5. RE-DRAW AND EDGE GARDEN BEDS
You may also want to redraw the boundary between your garden beds and grass. Wider beds mean less lawn care, too. Here’s how to do it: Use a garden hose to mark out a nice line for your garden beds. Then, along this bed line, take a sharp metal edger and drive it into the ground as deep as it will go. Dig all along the hose line and then remove the grass that’s there, creating a nice bed. Once done, fill up the bed with 2 to 3 inches of mulch (pine bark is a good choice)—or you’ll just get a bed of weeds! Then you’re ready to transplant or plant perennial flowers.
6. FEED YOUR LAWN
Fertilizing your lawn in the spring isn’t always necessary. (The best time for fertilizing is autumn—when grass plants take up nitrogen to help them green up more quickly in the spring.) However, many folks like to apply fertilizer in the spring, too.
If you are not applying a pre-emergent herbicide, you still may want to fertilize your lawn in the spring (mid-April). Select fertilizers that contain slow-release nitrogen sources.
When you fertilize grass, apply lightly. Heavy fertilization is not good for the grass and can also lead to disease problems.
Cool-season grasses can be fertilized early in spring. Just go to a garden center, buy the fertilizer for your type of grass, and apply it evenly. Note that warm-season grasses (e.g., Bermuda grass) can be fertilized in late spring once they green up. After you fertilize in the spring, fertilize a second time about six to eight weeks later.
If you’re interested in a more organic way to fertilize, use a mulching mower—which returns grass clippings back to the soil. This saves you time and energy, while also improving the condition of your lawn. Since grass clippings contain up to 90 percent water, the clippings dry up very quickly. It’s almost as if the grass clippings disappear. Plus, this returns 25 percent of the nutrients to the soil—a fantastic fertilizer.
7. SEED BARE PATCHES
Seeding lawns should happen in the fall but if you’re desperate to fix bare patches from traffic or pets, try spot seeding in March or April.
Use a steel rake to scuff up the area. Loosen the soil. Scrape some compost into the area. Sprinkle grass seed on the spot. (Use a sun/shade premium mix, unless the area’s heavily shaded.) Keep the soil moist. Cover the seeds with straw matting or another material. Even grass clippings will do. You just want to cover the spot with some sort of material to hold seeds in place.
If you’re using a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring, keep in mind that it kills both weed and grass seeds; this is why fall is a better time to seed grass.
With pre-emergent herbicides, a better option would be to fertilize any spots in the lawn, and in a few weeks shoots will grow and fill in the brown spots. If the brown patches are too big, or you just can’t wait, sod is the better option.
8. PRUNE HEDGES, SHRUBS, AND TREES
Winter or early spring is the best time to trim any hedges with leaves.
When to prune a shrub depends mostly on when it blooms and whether it flowers on growth produced in the same or previous years. Generally, those that flower after midsummer are pruned hard in the spring. Take care not to prune too early, as the incisions can dry out if the temperature drops below freezing. See our spring pruning chart.
Trees are ideally pruned before the leaves come out when it’s easier to see the condition of the branches. Of course, you need to prune any dead branches for safety reasons; you don’t want branches falling on people or property. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if a tree has dead branches unless you climb it. For the reason, it may be prudent to hire a tree trimmer to prune any dead trees once every three years.
To prune trees yourself, look into tree pruners with long reach poles so you can keep your own feet safely on the ground.
Fruit trees (especially apple trees) need to be pruned in the spring to stay healthy and produce a good harvest.
9. MOW GRASS—BUT NOT TOO SOON
Mow the lawn when the grass level reaches 2 to 3 inches tall. The lawn needs time to recover after winter. However, if the grass grows too long, it shades the roots which allows fewer weed seeds to sprout.
If you use a traditional lawn mower, spring is the time to clean (or replace) the filter and spark plugs. It’s important to sharpen the mower blade every month or two for a clean cut. When you just rip grass and leave it with open cuts, you leave your yard susceptible to fungi and disease. See more about lawn care.
If you’re interested in alternative mowers, consider a reel mower or an electric mower as a more environmentally friendly option. These mowers work best if your property is one-third of an acre or less. It’s important to mow your grass regularly, as it’s much more difficult to cut the grass if it gets way too tall (as many of us have experienced firsthand!).
Of course, we have to mention that there are alternatives to grass as well! Many folks are starting to use more ground cover plants (such a sedum), walkways, and wider flower beds. There’s also a growing trend to add vegetable garden beds or to integrate edibles (herbs, vegetables, fruit) into your front yard. See more about edible landscaping!
10. MULCH, MULCH, MULCH
Once you have edged your beds and trimmed back dead branches on your shrubs, add mulch (or replace your old mulch). We prefer a heavy mulch, such as hardwood bark mulches over dyed brown wood chips. They are higher-quality, last longer, and look better. Read more about the benefits of mulching.
Not everything on this list is necessary for every yard, but we think that we’ve covered most of what you need to know for spring!