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Time for a Little Early Spring Maintenance



March is the perfect time to start some early spring cleanup tasks. It is also a good time to take stock of your yard and see if it’s time to thin out crowded beds and do some transplanting to fill in bare spots. Here are some easy and quick cleanup tasks that can get you ahead of the yard game before the heat of the summer hits.


Prune Away Dead and Damaged Branches

Where tree or shrub branches have been damaged by cold, snow, and wind, prune back to live stems; use a handsaw for any branches larger than half an inch in diameter. Shaping hedges with hand pruners, rather than electric shears, prevents a thick outer layer of growth that prohibits sunlight and air from reaching the shrub’s center. Prune summer-flowering shrubs, such as Rose of Sharon, before buds appear, but wait to prune spring bloomers, like forsythia, until after they flower. Trim overgrown evergreens back to a branch whose direction you want to encourage.


Clean Up Around Plants

Rake out fallen leaves and dead foliage that can smother plants and foster disease. Pull up spent annuals, and toss in a wheelbarrow with other organic yard waste. Once the threat of frost has passed, remove existing mulch to set the stage for a new layer once spring planting is done. Push heaved plants back into flower beds and borders, tamping them down around the base with your foot, or use a shovel to replant them. Now is a good time to spread a fertilizer to existing plantings on the soil’s surface so that spring rains can carry it to the roots.


Patch, paint or replace your fence

Remove badly rotted or damaged pickets, boards, or lattice from your fence or deck. Scrub wood structures clean with a mix of 2 gallons water, 2 quarts bleach, and 1 cup liquid soap; let dry. Patch rotted sections with wood epoxy; install new wood as needed. Check wobbly fence posts to see if they need replacing. Scrape off old paint, then sand wood all over with 60 grit to prep for a new finish coat. Once temperatures go above 50° F, brush on a new coat of paint or stain.


Cut back and divide perennials as needed

Prune flowering perennials to a height of 4-5 inches and ornamental grasses to 2-3 inches to allow new growth to shoot up. Where soil has thawed, dig up perennials, such as daylilies and hostas, to thin crowded beds; divide them, leaving at least three stems per clump, and transplant them to fill in sparse areas. Cut back winter-damaged rose canes to 1 inch below the blackened area. On climbers, keep younger green canes and remove older woody ones.


Prep damaged lawn areas for spring seeding

In colder climates, grass starts growing in April. But early spring is a good time to test the soil’s pH. Remove turf damaged by salt, plows, or disease to prepare for the seeding that should follow in a few weeks. Begin seeding once forsythia starts blooming in your area. In warmer climates, March is a good time to add the first dose of fertilizer and crabgrass treatment.


Compost yard waste

Dump collected leaves, cuttings, spent foliage, and last season’s mulch into your compost pile, or make a simple corral by joining sections of wire fence into a 3-by-3-by-3-foot cube. Shred leaves and chip branches larger than ½ inch in diameter to accelerate decomposition, or add a bagged compost starter to the pile. Keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge, and aerate it with a pitchfork every two weeks. Just don’t add any early spring weeds that have gone to seed—they might not cook completely and could sprout instead.


Source: This Old House

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