Well, for sure Mother Nature has been crazy this year, but we can’t let her Bipolar tendencies ruin our Spring. It’s time to get out and get your green on. Many of you have got your gardens in full swing and hopefully they are doing well. Potatoes are going in the ground. I’ve got a cousin who had a picture on Facebook of the back of her minivan loaded with chopped up seed potatoes…..that may be a bit much, but at least I’ll know who to call when I run out. Onions and asparagus are growing as well. Don’t forget that you want to let your asparagus grow for a couple seasons before harvesting the first time. After that, it’s fair game! Spring cleanup projects are moving along and my crews have been busy as can be raking leaves, digging edges, and spreading mulch……now if I can just find the motivation to clean up my own yard. Might have to just pony up some dough to Deman to get him out there! Either way, here is a list of tasks that your landscape probably needs to have completed and some guidance on proper techniques for getting them done.
First and foremost is the obvious one; just like your yard, you want to get as much of the leaves out as possible. Yes leaves are good from one perspective. They do break down and return organic material to the soil. However, if they are left to decompose on top of your perennials that are trying to break through, they can actually choke those new little plants out. If you want to leave some leaves (pun intended) in the landscape, I would recommend that you till the leaves in a bit between your plants but clear out the spaces where you know you got flowers planted. This will rebuild the soil, but also protect the flowers you’ve invested your time and money into. Personally, when it comes to removing leaves, I absolutely LOVE my blower/vac. It is in my indispensable tools category. Gas or electric is irrelevant (although mine is gas). The only down side to this tool, is that if the leaves are wet, it doesn’t work quite as well as when they are dry. On the upside, it is easier than raking, and they mulch the leaves as they vacuum allowing for the use of less leaf bags, or trips to the dump. Trust me, this little tool can be a real back-saver.
The next little back saver I would offer up would be an edging machine. However, if you don’t have much landscape to edge, I wouldn’t recommend renting one of these bad boys. This does bring us to our next step though, which is to re-edge your bed. Assuming your landscape beds have a “natural edge” trench as a border, this will likely need to be touched up every season or two to fight back encroaching grass. First, you want to use a hard rake to pull back all the good mulch to be re-used after the new edge is dug. Next, get yourself a nice sharp straight edge spade and stick that guy in the soil along the edge of your bed about 4-5 inches deep. Put your foot flat behind the spade to brace it then dig up the soil and grass that is in the bed area. At this point, your best bet is to throw that soil and grass in a wheelbarrow to be disposed of either somewhere in the yard or taken to the dump. You don’t want to just toss it into the beds because the grass roots will simply take holder deeper into the bed creating more of a mess. Your goal is to create around a 4 inch deep trench along the edge of the bed to keep mulch in and grass out!
Once you’ve created a nice new barrier between your lawn and landscape it’s time to do a little preventative maintenance. I highly suggest that you put down a per-emergent herbicide at this stage of the process. Something like, Preen or Treflan weed preventer with added fertilizer would be a good choice. In most cases these are not terribly expensive and they will help on two different fronts. The fertilizer will give your plants a nice meal to kick the season off, and the herbicide should prevent a weed barrier that will last at least a couple months into the season. Many of these products come in an easy to use containers with shaker lids for quick applications. I actually suggest you use these products two to three times a season. the plants will appreciate the extra food and your back will again appreciate that it doesn’t have to bend over to pull nearly as many weeds.
However, now it’s time for some “back-breaking” work. Now good way to make this easier, you just have to suck it up and get it done. It’s time to “top-dress” the mulch in your beds!! Whether you are using bag mulch or bulk is not going to make for any less work. Either way you’ve got to get those chopped up little tree pieces over to where you want them. Then you’ve got to dump them and then you’ve got to spread them all over in the bed. It’s going to be a little work no matter how you do it, so be prepared! Now for my brief note on mulch choices: Standard shredded hardwood mulch is by far the cheapest option and for all intents and purposes, the one with the smallest carbon footprint. The dyed mulches of course are simply hardwood mulch that has been dyed……I have NO IDEA with what. While I’m sure it’s not toxic, I don’t know what it is, so keep that in mind. Also, that dye that your paying almost twice the mulch price for is going to fade…..fairly quickly in full sun. Eventually it will look the same as the standard un-dyed mulch, so it is really worth the cost. If I’m going to spend the extra cash, I’m going for the cedar mulch. It’s going to take longer to decay, it’s a unique color, and it’s going to have a cool cedar fragrance for at least a while. Also, since cedar doesn’t decay as fast, it tends to not attract insects like other mulches may. Although their are numerous other options for mulch, the last one I am going to touch on is cypress mulch. Visually cypress is very similar to cedar. However, cypress can only be harvested at certain times of the year and is typically not replanted. It is slower growing than cedar which makes it a much less sustainable resource. Considering the point of landscaping is to beautify the environment, using a non sustainable resource seems a little hypocritical to me, but that’s all I’m going to say about that, now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Once you’ve got your mulch to your beds, the best way to spread it, in my opinion, is with a hard rake. Once you’ve got it all raked out, take your rake, turn the tines over and use the back to tamp the new mulch level. This will give a much cleaner appearance to your finished landscape.
After leveling all your mulch, you should get a hose out and soak it all down very well. This will activate the fertilizer and will also create a moisture layer for your young plants. It will also help keep that light mulch from blowing everywhere across your yard, which is a definite plus considering how much work you just put in. And that is it, in a nut shell. Different landscape may require some additional steps such as cutting down grasses or dividing certain perennials, but for the most part, these few tasks will keep your landscape looking fantastic year after year. So get out your rake and let’s clean up our landscapes together. I’ll see you out there, and as always:
GOOD LUCK AND KEEP GROWING!!!!