Yesterday was forty and frigid, but last weekend was nice and today promises to be warm enough to at least let my mind consider spring. Looking out the window right now, most trees have tentative buds and clumps of daffodils are risking blooms. The 18 foot slush pile in the driveway from the incessant winter snow plowing is down to mere inches and with any luck by next weekend will just be a melting memory. Spring in New England means the marathon, dressing in many, many layers for the fickle weather and shivering through those first few weeks of landscaping and yard work. It’s not a long growing season here, so every weekend counts, which means I have a list. A confession, I’m a big believer in lists. Need to get something done? Make a list. My ‘get-outdoors-it’s-finally-friggen’-spring’ list looks like this:
- Check the oil and sharpen the blades on the lawnmower
This is an easy one that I’m sure way too many people overlook. Checking the oil, well, that’s no problem, but getting the blades sharpened really isn’t much harder. Most shops will take the whole mower and take care of it for you along with a seasonal tuneup. Well-sharpened mower blades drastically reduce mowing time. Well worth the effort.
- Check and fill all gas cans for lawnmowers and other tools
While you’re dropping the mower off, fill up the gas can in the garage. Nothing worse than stalling out on a hot day in July halfway through mowing the back yard.
- Check garden hoses for cracks or leaks
This one is especially critical for climates with harsh winters. Most people bring the houses in the garage around here, so checking isn’t a big deal unless the hose is getting old, but if you have any drip hoses buried in garden beds (or an irrigation system) it’s worth the time to check for leaks now and patch ’em up before you wake up one morning to a flooded plain where your peonies used to be.
- Examine outside wood or exposed wood for spots that may need repair or painting
After the brutal icing we had in the northeast this year, I’m sure everyone is very aware of their roof conditions. Take some time to walk around your home and look up. So often we’re looking down with our yards, so it’s easy to miss spots that may have mold, mildew or just chipping paint.
- Check outside vents
Another simple thing that can save a lot of time and money later. Make sure any outside vents are clear and make sure the attic (if you have one) is still getting proper airflow. Check the interior wood and insulation while you’re up in the attic too.
- Check gutters and downspouts
Living right below a number of large, mature pines, this one is the bane of my existence. I call a service for the third floor ones, but the lower ones and downspouts are easily cleared with a hose and a ladder. Clearing the gutters of debris to make sure it’s properly draining can save you a number of much more expensive home repair bills.
Prepare the lawn
After being covered in snow and going dormant, the most important thing you can do for your lawn is to give it a vigorous raking to remove any thatch (picking up stray branches and debris goes without saying right?). If you do nothing else, do this. I also spread some corn gluten, an organic weed controller (do this as early as possible), and grass seed mixed with clover. With pets and small children patrolling the lawns, I’ve tried to reduce chemical treatments I use. I’ve found the videos at safelawns.org a great resource.
- Prep and plant early garden beds
This is typically the first one I tackle, so I can try to squeeze in an early spring crop. I’ll pull up the stray weeds, turn the beds and then add additional compost, fertilizers and soil before planting the cool weather crops. If I’ve overwintered any crops (garlic this year), I’ll check on them and remove some of the straw at this point.
- Mulch, prune and spray
After the garden beds are done, I’ll look to prune bushes that have either died or been damaged by the winter weather. Pruning in the spring is typically best as plants are growing and regenerating. Next I’ll spread a good 2-3 inches of mulch in all the beds. This not only keeps down weeds, but helps plants retain moisture and it helps the soil as it breaks down over the year. It’s tempting to skip this or do it every other year. Fight that urge. Finally, As spring really gets going, be on the lookout for for aphids, aspens, and other hungry bugs that can wreak havoc on young leaves. These pests are easily eliminated with an application of liquid Pyola spray. I try to get most trees and flowering bushes an application earlier, rather than later. Then repeat the spray every two or three weeks.
That’s it. Most of it can be knocked off in a solid weekend of work and you’ll get the growing season off on the right foot. It’s not all you have to do, but not doing it can set you up for disappointment or frustration later. An ounce of prevention now, saves a pound of problems later. Did I just quote my grandmother?