Image: Robin Stubbert
Spend more time enjoying your garden this summer and less time working on it. Do these five easy tasks in spring to help avoid garden grief later on.
1. Prune trees
Check trees and shrubs for signs of winter injury and prune any branches that are damaged, diseased or dead. Prune and shape evergreen conifers such as spruce, cedar and false cypress in early spring. Summer-flowering shrubs that bloom on new wood (including Annabelle-type hydrangeas—Invincibelle and Incrediball varieties—panicle hydrangeas and Japanese spireas) should also be pruned before they leaf out. Avoid pruning spring-flowering shrubs that bloom on old wood (forsythia, lilacs and bridal wreath spirea, for example) until after they've flowered; otherwise, you'll cut off their flower buds. To avoid excessive loss of sap (known as "bleeding"), never prune maples or birches until midsummer.
2. Prep soil
Eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers by feeding the soil in early spring before bulbs, perennials and vegetables begin to sprout. Use a level-head rake to evenly spread five to 10 centimetres of compost or composted manure on the surface of the beds. To improve the soil's texture, add several centimetres of shredded leaves or leaf mould. Next, use a garden fork to mix the compost and leaves into the top five to 10 centimetres of the existing soil. After mixing well, top off the beds with an organic mulch, like chipped bark, to conserve soil moisture and discourage weed growth.
3. Combat pests
Dispense with chemical pesticides this summer by using a dormant oil spray first thing this spring to combat fungus and insect pests on fruit trees, roses, flowering shrubs and ornamentals. We recommend choosing a dormant spray kit that contains horticultural oil and lime-sulphur, such as Green Earth Dormant Spray Kit, available at big-box stores. Posing no risk to humans, pets, birds or beneficial insects, dormant oil kills the eggs and/or larvae of aphids, leaf rollers, tent caterpillars, mites and scale insects; the lime-sulphur protects against mildew, rust and black spot. Spray plants (before budbreak) on a dry, windless day when the temperature remains above freezing for at least 24 hours. Some plants are sensitive to dormant sprays (such as red, sugar and Japanese maples, beeches and some evergreens), so read the package directions carefully before use.
4. Repair lawn
Once your lawn is dry enough to walk on (if you leave footprints, it's still too wet), it's time to give it a thorough raking to remove any thatch buildup (the layer of dead grass blades that lies on the soil surface). If the soil is compacted, early spring is also a good time to aerate your lawn: For small areas, use a spike aerator or garden fork to poke 10-centimetre-deep holes into the turfgrass so water and air can penetrate down to the root zone; for large areas, use an aerating machine (you can rent one at your local hardware or garden centre). If you have bare spots in the lawn, now is the time to patch them; grass seed won't germinate in the heat of summer. First, scratch up the soil surface and mix in a thin layer of compost. Next, sprinkle grass seed liberally on the soil surface and use a flat board to press the seed into place. Keep the area well watered until the new turf becomes established, and remember to set your mower blades to a height of 7.5 centimetres to conserve soil moisture, keep grass roots cool and discourage weed growth.
5. Pot bulbs
Whether you store tender summer-flowering bulbs (think begonias, dahlias and calla lilies) in your basement or buy them fresh every year, get a head start on summer by potting them now. Using fresh potting soil formulated for containers, fill the pots to within three centimetres of the top of the pot, water well and insert the bulbs at the correct depth (never bury begonia tubers). Place pots in a sunny (south- or west-facing) window and resume watering once the bulbs have sprouted. If plants get leggy, pinch them back to encourage a busy habit. In early summer, plants may be transplanted to larger containers or flowerbeds.