Early spring, when Mother Nature washes away winter’s drab palate with a wave of brilliant springtime color, is the best time to prepare and plan your garden. As soon as the night temperatures rise above 30 degrees and the outdoor world’s suddenly surging to green life, we can start with our spring steps. To help you get started I’ve rounded up my best spring garden tips and some suggestions for designing a beautiful garden.
When you go into the garden, gently remove any leaves by raking, blowing or even by hand in the most difficult areas, such as the tops of ground covers or the bottoms of hedges. Don’t forget to take all the other debris from the yard. Clip stalks instead of pulling them, so you don’t disturb growing roots or emerging shoots. Prune shrubs and trees that bloom in summer and fall. Prune only the branches that are snapped from the winter snow and ice of the spring-blooming plants. Any plant that blooms in the spring has already set the blossom buds the previous fall. If you prune those branches now, you will cut off the blossom buds.
Tackle weed seedlings now, before thickly growing perennials make weeding tricky and endanger your favorite bloomers. If you are not sure whether it is a weed or a plant, leave it until it grows so that you can better identify it. Dividing or thinning shrubs and perennials such as Phlox, Nepeta, Sedum, ornamental grasses or Rudbeckias increases blooms and gives better air circulation. Doing this will also avoid the formation of any fungus. The divided perennials can be transplanted to new garden beds or shared with your gardening friends. Fertilization of your garden should be done with a balanced organic fertilizer, and compost of cow manure should be added to stressed areas. A balanced fertilizer includes compost, rotted manure, seaweed and blends of single nutrient fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are slow-acting and long lasting. The nutrients become available to plants only as the material decays in the soil.
The next step is edging and mulching the beds and borders to keep the neatness of the garden. Edging creates a barrier to keep lawn grasses and weeds out of the garden and also contains spreading perennials. Mulch conserves soil moisture and controls weeds. There are different kinds of mulch, such as cocoa shells—which are ideal for rose gardens—shredded bark, wood chips or finished compost. Some mulches are considered high-nitrogen mulch and can be offensive for some variety of plants, promoting burn of the new growth. To avoid placing the wrong kind of mulch, get the opinion of a professional landscaper. Sometimes it is better to apply just a heavier coat of dehydrated compost.
For the lawn, begin to pull weeds and rake to remove dead grass and thatch. Fill in low spots with topsoil and re-seed or patch up any bald areas. Spray a neutral fertilizer such as a 24-12-12 blend of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and spread lime over the lawn to keep the soil PH between 6.5 and 7. Look for the number of nitrogen to be at least double of phosphorus and potassium. Broadcasting with a mechanical spreader is the only way to cover large areas at uniform rates. To make bald areas in your lawn grow better and greener, sprinkle or spray a liquid feeding. I recommend if you have a worn-out lawn, revitalize it by spreading a thin layer of aged manure or compost over the entire area. Before starting to mow, make sure your mower blades are very sharp. Set the mower high for the first two or three cuttings, so that the tall grasses will shade the seeds of weeds to discourage them from germinating. Keep inspecting the lawn for diseases, weeds and pests such as white grubs, which kill turf by devouring the roots and also attract digging animals, such as moles. Maintain this inspection for the whole season to keep a healthy, green and beautiful lawn. If you are not able to identify pests, diseases or weeds, call a lawn specialist to help you control measures immediately to prevent or stop these problems before they spread and get out of hand. After this care, your garden and lawn are ready to grow.
There is no better place than your own backyard for raising a healthy crop of self-esteem and translate a fantasy of personal expression into garden reality. Happy spring!
Landscape designer, writer and lecturer Frederico Azevedo is the CEO of Unlimited Earth Care, Inc., providing landscape design and maintenance to the Hamptons for over 20 years. For more information, call 631-725-7551 or visit unlimitedearthcare.com.