Spring Cleaning your Gardens and Lawn

spring cleaning

Just like the inside of your home, your gardens and lawn will benefit from a good spring cleaning too. As soon as the snow disappears from your lawn and garden you can start the spring cleaning.

Spring Lawn Care

When your lawn is dry (not spongy to walk on) give it a good rake to remove all the dead grass and leaves. Core aeration is recommended after raking to allow oxygen and nutrients to penetrate into the root system of your lawn, especially if your soil is heavily compacted.(as most lawns are in this area) Core aeration is also effective in the fall, one less thing to do in spring.

If your lawn has a lot of crabgrass and broad-leaf weeds (dandelions) you can treat it to a weed and feed product.  The ones containing corn gluten are particularly effective if used before the weed seeds have a chance to germinate.  I sprinkle corn gluten right on the snow when there is only a small amount of snow left on my lawn because as soon as the snow is gone, the weeds start to germinate and within a few days the crabgrass growth is visible.  

You can also overseed your lawn now (but only if you have NOT applied something for weeds, otherwise wait 6 weeks to seed) by raking in topsoil and sprinkling grass seed on the soil.  This is best done before a rainy spell as the seeds should be kept wet until they germinate.

Clean Debris out of your Gardens

Your gardens can also use a good raking early, but be sure to use a plastic rake and a gentler touch, so tender dormant perennials are not damaged.  Remove all the dead, but still intact leaves, last year’s annual (annuals are plants that you must replant each year) plantings, and the twiggy pieces of last year’s growth on the perennials (perennials are plants that come back on their own each year).  Generally speaking, if the twiggy pieces break off easily with a gentle rake, it is safe to remove them.  

Woodier perennials (lavender, sage, hibiscus etc) need a bit more time to rebound from winter and should not be cut back until new growth is visible. Spring cleaning on those fussier perennials should wait.

Prune Shrubs, Divide and Plant Perennials

Shrubs that bloom in summer or fall (weigela, pink spirea, burning bush etc) can be pruned in early spring, while those that bloom early in spring (forsythia, lilacs, magnolia etc) should not be pruned until after they bloom.

Dividing perennials is best done this time of year too; dig up the overgrown clumps, divide them with a sharp spade, and plant them in their new locations.  Fill in bare spots with new perennials. These jobs can be done as soon as the ground thaws.

Annuals, however, should not be planted until the danger of overnight frost is gone, usually late May in this area.

Amend Your Garden Soil and add Mulch

Once all of my perennials have re-emerged, the weeds and old annuals are removed, and the necessary pruning is done, I like to amend the soil around them with soil, compost, and peat moss. This triple mix product can be purchased already combined.  

A layer of cedar mulch (I prefer dark brown or black) is the final touch, but to prevent your plants from rotting, be sure not to apply the mulch too close to the base/stalks/stems of the plants.

Finishing Touches

The last step in spring cleaning your gardens is to retrieve the outdoor furniture and whimsical touches from their winter storage. Then enjoy the most important part, take a few minutes out of your busy life to sit down, relax and admire your efforts…

Create a New Garden Without Digging up the Grass

I found this article in a recent issue of Canadian Gardening…http://www.canadiangardening.com/how-to/techniques/create-a-new-flower-bed-using-a-no-fail-technique/a/1513 describing a method to make a new garden right over top existing lawn, so you do not have to spend hours of back-breaking work removing the grass.

I mentioned it to a friend of mine, who thought she would like to give it a try in her backyard.  Her backyard is small, but it features a gorgeous rock wall that must be at least 12 feet tall along the back edge.  The home is in a subdivision build on a rocky ridge, so the rock wall was created instead of carting the huge boulders away.  The only drawback it that her yard is substantially lower than her neighbours’ behind her, giving her yard a “fishbowl” setting.  I am told that when we receive a heavy rain, the water cascades down the rock wall in several spots.  I will have to choose plants that like damp soil for  these spots; I have several in mind.

There are two maple trees and a few sumac shrubs that will eventually provide some privacy along the back.  One side of the yard is walled off by a tall, full cedar hedge and the opposite side has a wrought iron fence.  In my plan I will add a few small trees to the side with the fence, possibly lilacs, as they grow quickly, are inexpensive, hardy and a favorite of my client.  For now the yard receives a lot of sun, but once the trees get larger, they will provide some shade with the privacy…

The old, single level deck was recently replaced with a beautiful, multi-levelled deck with two sets of steps leading off it.  The plan is to have a walkway between the two sets of steps with a small patio (just large enough for a small table set and a lounger) on the ground level between the cedar hedge and one set of steps.  The deck builder was kind enough to leave us this area bare, you can see it in the first picture.  I recently found two colors of patio stones for sale at a great price on Kijiji, and will keep looking for more inexpensive material to create a pattern for the patio and walkway.   The rest of the yard will be a combination of garden and river rock; no grass.

This seems like a large, expensive project, but with the method outlined in the article and the use of many recycled products and donated plants, we hope to keep the budget at a minimum.  It is also a plan we can work on in stages as time and budget permit…

The first step was to get rid of the grass.  To do this we cut it short, then covered it with several layers of newspapers, which in turn was covered with a triple mix of soil, peat moss and compost.  The final layer consists of leaves that I collected, bagged and ready for pickup, from my neighbors curbs on garbage day.  I used the leaves as an inexpensive (free) substitution for the mulch suggested in the article.

I did not disturb the perennials that were randomly planted; I simply applied the layers of paper, soil and leaves around the plants, and will move the plants to their new homes in the spring when we get to the planting stage…

It did not look very pretty when we were done this stage, but we managed to get the layer of leaves down before the snow arrived.  I am anxious for spring to see how well the process worked.

I will keep you posted!

Sunburned Lawns

sunburned lawns

Is your lawn golden brown and crispy?  Don’t despair, look around, you are not alone. On my street alone, most of the yards are sporting sunburned lawns. The extreme heat and lack of rain this summer have created havoc on eastern Ontario’s usual lush green landscape.  My heart goes out to the farmers in the area whose crops are so severely affected.

In comparison, the condition of my lawn seems trivial…my front yard usually gets toasty in late July/early August as it has a southern exposure getting full sun pretty well all day, but this year it is well beyond “dry”.  

Lawn Dormancy

On principle, I refuse to get out there every morning or evening to waste water on my lawn in these drought conditions, so every year my south-facing, front lawn looks pretty sad in July and August.  Unfortunately this year the parched, yellow, straw look started in mid-May!

Please remember, lawn grass is supposed to go dormant in these extreme conditions.   At this point there is nothing you can do to revitalize it as it will not respond to fertilizer and water is not enough.  Fortunately, our nice green lawns will return with cooler weather and some rainy days.  When this happens, and your grass starts to turn green again, you can apply fertilizer to strengthen the roots which will promote a faster recovery.

Remove Weeds on Sunburned Lawns and in Gardens

Why do the weeds in my gardens, sidewalks, and lawn continue to thrive in this hot weather, when the grass and flowers struggle?  On close inspection, the only part of my lawn that looks green is weeds.

sunburned lawns

The one positive thing about sunburned lawns is that it is easy to pick out the weeds!  If you have the energy in this heat, now would be a great time to remove those pesky weeds including the green “creeping” sort that line the driveways.  Be sure to pull out the entire root though so they won’t come back. Then when the cooler, wetter weather does arrive you can sprinkle some grass seed where those weeds were growing.

After the weeds are all pulled from your gardens, apply a thick layer of mulch to deter them from coming back too soon.  Weed seeds blowing around or carried around by birds will germinate in mulch too, but the mature weeds will be much easier to pull out when their roots are growing in mulch instead of soil.

Repairing Sunburned Lawns

MARK CULLEN, a Canadian garden expert, has the following advice on the best way to make repairs to your sunburned lawns:

  • Spread Mark’s Choice Lawn Soil (found at Home Hardware stores) over the area you wish to re-seed, 2 cm. thick
  • Rake smooth
  • Broadcast Golfgreen lawn seed [Canadian for our lawns: 0% weed seeds] by hand
  • Rake smooth to incorporate into the soil.
  • Step on it or roll it with a roller 1/3 full of water. 
  • Water it every day that you do not receive any rain until established.
  •  Do NOT let the seedlings dry out!
  •  It is best to water first thing in the morning or in the evening.

Fall is the Best Time to Repair Sunburned Lawns

In my opinion, fall is the best time to repair drought damage to lawns. That’s because cooler nights as well as more and longer-lasting dew on the ground each morning during autumn means less chance of sod or grass seed drying out.