Backyard Spring Clean Up: Tips for the 5 biggest landscaping challenges

By Andi Caruso

 

As Canadians, we’ve been spent the winter gazing out our back doors, eager to emerge from hibernation, imagining how amazing the first barbequed burger is going to taste.

Backyard Goals

Backyard Reality

But now, as the snow melts, revealing the evidence of lax leaf-raking and neglected pet clean-up, a harsh realization sets in: it’s time for spring yard clean up.  

At this point, it probably feels overwhelming – there’s SO much to do, where do you even start? Good question. Here’s what some of the professional landscapers have to say about common backyard challenges and how to tackle them.

Pruning

Last year’s growth on your trees and shrubs may be blocking walkways, casting too much shade or threatening to drop leaves into the neighbour’s yard. When it comes to trimming back the foliage, it’s important to know when the right time is.  

When to prune trees:

Winter

    • It’s most common to prune trees in the winter when the trees are dormant
    • Wait until the coldest part of winter has passed
    • Some trees will bleed a lot of sap after they’re pruned – don’t worry about this, it’s 100% normal

 

Summer

    • If you want to direct growth or shape trees and shrubs, prune in the summer
    • Growth will slow when you prune in the summer – less leaves means less nutrients to the roots
    • This is a good time to prune for corrective purposes – you can see exactly what you’re working wit

 

Flowering trees

    • For trees and shrubs that bloom, timing is important
    • Spring bloomers –  prune soon after the flowers fade – waiting too long may mean no blooms next spring
    • Mid to late summer bloomers – prune in winter or early spring

Tip:

When pruning needle-leaf evergreens – avoid cutting back into the wood that has no green needles – it may not sprout new growth.

Do not to prune in the fall.

    • Decay fungi spread spores profusely in the fall
    • Healing of cuts is slower in fall

Don’t forget – spring is a great time to cut ornamental grasses down to 2 -3 inches in height.

Common Pruning Mistakes

1. Trimming the tips of branches in an effort to keep an ornamental tree from getting too tall

Why you should avoid this: Trees will react to having a lead branches trimmed by sending several new leaders in to replace it. Over time, the structural integrity of the tree will be compromised. It’s better to identify the taller branches and remove them back at the trunk.

2. Not pruning at all

Why you should avoid this: For brightly coloured varieties such as Dogwoods, pruning is the only way to prevent the entire tree from becoming dull and brown. Removing old stems ensures new growth maintains the bright hue.

Aeration  

The roots of your lawn need air, water and nutrients. If the top layer of your lawn has sealed-off the roots from what they need to be healthy, aeration perforates through the top layer to create access while the nutrient-rich soil plug that are removed disperse minerals and nitrogen.  

How do you know if you need to aerate?

If there has been soil compaction

• High traffic or heavy use areas

If the grass was installed as sod

• Sod over compacted ground such as new construction

• Sod with a fine base over coarser soil

These conditions cause the soil from the sod to hold water, which ends up evaporating more quickly than if the water was able to reach the subsoil. If it seems like you have to water your grass quite often, aeration will help the moisture soak in deeper and resist evaporation.

When to aerate?

Aerate in the growing season so the grass can heal. In Canada, you almost certainly have a cool season grass variety that can be aerated from early spring to fall. If you’re unsure, ask a pro. Warm season grass varieties should only be aerated in late spring.

Note: You may hear that aeration will make your herbicide application ineffective – it won’t. You can aerate before or after you apply your weed control chemicals.

Common Aeration Mistakes

1. Not fertilizing before aeration

Why you should avoid this: Skipping this simple step will prolong the healing process and is a missed opportunity to drive nutrients to the roots where they are needed.

2. Skipping a heavy watering

Why you should avoid this: Dry soil is hard and unnecessarily hard to perforate. If you’re the one with the aerator tool, you and your back will be grateful for softened ground.  

Dethatching

Thatch is the accumulation of dead grass, grass clippings, leaves, and other organic materials that fall onto your lawn. If you cut out a small piece of your lawn, and the layer of dead organic matter is half an inch or more – you have a thatch problem.

→ Thatch prevents nutrients and water from reaching the roots

→ New grass cannot be seeded properly when there is a thick thatch

→ Dethatching involves pulling out the accumulation of organic material by hand, with a rake. The definition of back-breaking labour

⚠ Cross your fingers that you don’t have to dethatch because it is seriously hard labour 

When to dethatch:

  • Unlike aeration, thatching should not be done in the growing season.
  • Dethatch your grass before the new growth appears in the spring or late in the fall after a few good frosts.

Dethatching may produce bare spots – this is to be expected. Simply overseed and water well.

Common Dethatching Mistakes

1. Dethatching a lawn that doesn’t need it

Why you should avoid this: If you are too eager to pull out the organic base of your lawn, you could end up doing serious damage. It can be hard to tell what is a thatch and what is a healthy base – it’s best to get a second opinion from a pro.

2. Dethatching at the wrong time

Why you should avoid this: Dethatching too late in the spring can open the door for crabgrass and other noxious weeds in infiltrate your lawn. If you can’t get to it before the new growth starts, you’ll have to wait another year.

Flower Beds

If you left last year’s dead organic material in the flower beds over the winter, you helped to protect your perennials from harsh winter conditions. Now that the threat of frost has subsided, it’s time to remove any barriers that could make it challenging for spring growth to emerge.   

Begin by removing all dead organic matter

  • If there’s no threat of frost, the old mulch can come out
  • Remove spent annuals
  • If perennials seem crowded, dig them up and thin them out

Once the clean-up is complete, pelleted fertilizer can be spread, especially around bulbs to maximize flowering time.

Common Flower Bed Clean-up Mistakes

1. Pulling out would-be perennials thinking they’re dead material or weeds

Why you should avoid this:  Of course we want to save perennials, but sometimes in early spring only an expert eye can tell what’s-what.

2. Infrequent or insufficient weeding

Why you should avoid this:  Weeds can become completely unmanageable, before you know it, choking out delicate flowers and consuming all your spare time. The best approach is an aggressive weeding schedule early in the season. Expect to see a new crop of ‘undesirables’ after every rain as well.   

Hardscape

Heaving ground is par for the course with Canadian seasons. Often, pavers, edging and other stone or wood installations can buckle or become otherwise dislodged. This is not only unsightly, but poses a tripping hazard for you and your guests. Repairing hardscaping can begin as soon as the frost has receded.

→ Begin by raking or brooming any sand or gravel back onto pavers to refill the joints

→ Tamp the joints if you are able and use water to set (you may have to add more material to the joints for stability)

→ Any pavers that have heaved can be removed, the base can be corrected, paver replaced and joint material reinstalled

The remainder of your hardscaping maintenance such as repairing and painting fences can be done anytime.

If this list made you feel even more overwhelmed – you’re not alone. Luckily, you also don’t have to tackle your spring yard clean-up by yourself either. Watch the video below to see how Tadoo can help you find a qualified professional to get your yard summer ready faster and easier than you ever imagined.