he gardening season is just starting and I’d like to have a closer look at what can be done to improve your gardens and lawns this year. Assuming that you raked your leaves in the fall, there will still be some leaves to be removed in the spring. Nothing is ever static in nature and leaves get blown around.
Leaves that are left on the lawn can smother the grass and fungal diseases may start growing under the rotting leaves. It’s fine to blow leaves out from between mulched shrubbery and perennial gardens. Leaf blowers can make the job easier on larger lots and they work best on windless, dry days. Take the leaves to the compost pile and mix them in with last year’s kitchen scraps to help speed up the composting process. If you are lucky enough to be surrounded by woods, it is important not to rake the leaves there. Decomposing leaves return nutrients to the soil and are used by the trees. They also provide cover for beneficial wildlife.
Spring is a good time to give your lawns a fix-up and establish new lawns from seed. The seed will have a chance to grow and toughen up before heavy summer use. Bare patches in the lawn need to be raked out with a fan rake to remove all of the dead grass. Next, a top dressing of one quarter inch to one half inch of a good topsoil, mixed with compost or well-rotted manure should be spread over the area. The grass seed can then be sown, either by hand for small areas, or by using a fertilizer spreader for larger areas. Be sure to put down enough seed. Follow the directions on the bag for the best results. Cover the seed over lightly with the back of a fan rake and water it in lightly. The seed should now be kept moist for the next couple of weeks, until it germinates. This may require a daily watering, morning and evening, depending on the weather conditions. In a few weeks’ time, this area will look like the rest of your lawn.
The first grass cutting of the season should be done at a low setting, about 1.5 inches. This re-invigorates the lawn, allowing sunlight to reach the leaf blades and soil. Afterwards, gradually raise the cutting level to 3 inches where it should stay for the rest of the summer. Tall grass shades out weed seedlings as they appear and also helps the grass to develop a deeper root system. This reduces the likelihood of drought damage in the heat of summer. Late spring is also the time to apply a good natural fertilizer to your lawn, which will keep your lawn growing well into the summer.
If you notice any mole damage in your lawn (appears as tunnels in the grass and heaps of soil), it is time to control the grubs. Lawn grubs are the larval stage of June bugs, Japanese Beetles etc., and moles feed on grubs. Once the soil warms up to about 13C (usually early June in our area), it is time to spread some nematodes. They are naturally occurring parasites, microscopic worms that will find the grubs and kill them.
When the soil is dried out enough, it is time to get out the spade and till the vegetable garden and annual gardens. To judge whether your soil is dry enough for tilling, squeeze a handful of soil between your fingers. There should be no water running from it and the sample should crumble easily. Compost or manure should be dug in. Applying a few inches of compost every year will leave you with the best possible soil in a few years’ time.
In the shrub garden, any dead or damaged wood should be pruned out. Also remove any crossing or crowded branches. Always try to open up shrubs and encourage proper air circulation by pruning out the inward facing shoots. In general, shrubs that flower in late summer, on this year’s growth, can be pruned now to encourage new growth. Spring flowering shrubs bloom on last year’s growth and need to be pruned after flowering.
Now is also a good time to refresh the mulch in your gardens as this will cut down on the needed watering and will also help control the weeds.
This is also a fine time to divide and rejuvenate the perennial bed. Any perennials that have died back in the centre need to be divided. Remove the plant, roots intact, from its spot. With a sharp spade or knife, cut down between the shoots, into the roots, first in half and then into progressively smaller pieces. Aim to have three strong shoots in each piece and a generous amount of roots. Discard the old woody core and replant the new pieces right away. Extra plants that were created this way are usually most welcome with friends and neighbours. This done, sit back, relax and enjoy the prospects of the new gardening year.