In early spring, when Mother Nature washes away winter’s drab palette with a wave of brilliant color, is the best time to plan and prepare your garden. As soon as night temperatures rise above 30 degrees and the outdoor world suddenly surges 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 and blowing—or even picking up by hand in the most difficult to reach areas, such as the tops of ground covers or the bottoms of hedges. Don’t forget to remove 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. Only prune the branches of the spring blooming plants that have snapped from the winter snow and ice. Any plant that blooms in the spring has already set the blossom buds during 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’re not sure whether it is a weed or a plant, leave it until it grows so you can better identify it. Dividing or thinning shrubs and perennials such as Phlox, Nepeta, Sedum, ornamental grasses or Rudbeckias will increase blooms and allow better air circulation, which will also help prevent 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 a compost of cow manure should be added to areas showing stress. 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 grasses and weeds from the lawn out of the garden and to contain spreading perennials. Mulch conserves soil moisture and controls weeds. There are different kinds of mulch such as cocoa shell, which is ideal for rose gardens, shredded bark, wood chips or finished compost. Some kinds of mulch are considered high nitrogen mulch and can be offensive for certain varieties of plants by promoting burn of the new growth. To avoid placing the wrong kind of mulch, seek the opinion of a professional landscaper. Sometimes it is better to just apply a heavier coat of dehydrated compost.
For the lawn, begin by pulling weeds and raking 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 nitrogen number to be at least double that 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. If you have a worn out lawn, I recommend revitalizing it by spreading a thin layer of aged manure or compost over the entire area. Before you start to mow, make sure your mower blades are very sharp. Set the mower high for the first two or three cuttings so the tall grasses will shade the seeds of weeds and discourage them from germinating.
Carefully inspect the lawn for diseases, weeds and pests, such as white grubs which kill turf by devouring the roots and attracting 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 and prevent or stop these problems before they spread and get out of hand. After this careful preparation, 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. Unlimited Earth Care can help you to 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.