Smart Spring Yard Cleanup

Tackle a little early spring maintenance now to get your yard ready for the growth spurt to come.

It’s Cleanup Season

March is notoriously unpredictable. Shrubs can be crusty with snow on the first of the month, and then, a couple of weeks later, temperatures can warm up enough for flower and leaf buds to show signs of life.

Still, some early spring cleanup tasks are sure things this time of year. So go ahead and remove burlap from trees and shrubs as the weather warms. Prune away winter-killed branches to make room for new growth. Cut back spent perennials and pull up old annuals if you didn’t get around to it last fall. Then look around. “March is a good time to take stock of your yard and see if it’s time to thin out crowded beds and do some transplanting to fill in bare spots,” says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook.

Here, a checklist to tackle now to give your green patch a clean start.

Trees and Shrubs

1. Prune away dead and damaged branches.

Where tree or shrub branches have been damaged by cold, snow, and wind, prune back to live stems; use a handsaw for any larger than ½ inch in diameter. Shaping hedges with hand pruners, rather than electric shears, prevents a thick outer layer of growth that prohibits sunlight and air from reaching the shrub’s center. At right, Roger neatens up a yew by pruning wayward shoots back to an intersecting branch. Prune summer-flowering shrubs, such as Rose of Sharon, before buds swell, but wait to prune spring bloomers, like forsythia, until after they flower.

Trim overgrown evergreens back to a branch whose direction you want to encourage.


TOH Pro Tip: Roger Cook, TOH Landscape Contractor says, “Now’s the time to get some basic spring yard maintenance done. Then, as temperatures warm up, you’ll be in better shape for seeding and planting, and for enjoying the outdoors.”

Perennials and Grasses

2. Cut back and divide perennials as needed.

Prune flowering perennials to a height of 4–5 inches and ornamental grasses to 2–3 inches to allow new growth to shoot up. Where soil has thawed, dig up perennials, such as daylilies and hostas, to thin crowded beds; divide them, leaving at least three stems per clump, and transplant them to fill in sparse areas. Cut back winter-damaged rose canes to 1 inch below the blackened area. On climbers, keep younger green canes and remove older woody ones; neaten them up by bending the canes horizontally and tipping the buds downward. Use jute twine or gentle Velcro fasteners to hold the canes in place.

A pair of sharp bypass pruners makes a clean cut on both dead and living foliage.

Beds and Borders

3. Clean Up Around Plants.

Rake out fallen leaves and dead foliage (which can smother plants and foster disease), pull up spent annuals, and toss in a wheelbarrow with other organic yard waste. Once the threat of frost has passed, Roger also removes existing mulch to set the stage for a new layer once spring planting is done. Push heaved plants back into flower beds and borders, tamping them down around the base with your foot, or use a shovel to replant them. Now is a good time to spread a pelletized fertilizer tailored to existing plantings on the soil’s surface so that spring rains can carry it to the roots. Add a 5-10-10 fertilizer around bulbs as soon as they flower to maximize bloom time and feed next season’s growth. Use pins to fasten drip irrigation lines that have come loose and a square-head shovel to give beds a clean edge and keep turf grass from growing into them.


4. Compost Yard Waste.

Dump collected leaves, cuttings, spent foliage, and last season’s mulch into your compost pile, or make a simple corral by joining sections of wire fence (available at home centers) into a 3-by-3-by-3-foot cube like the one above. Shred leaves and chip branches larger than ½ inch in diameter to accelerate decomposition, or add a bagged compost starter to the pile. Keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge, and aerate it with a pitchfork every two weeks. Just don’t add any early spring weeds that have gone to seed—they might not cook completely and could sprout instead.

Lawn Care

5. Prep Damaged Lawn Areas for Spring Seeding.

In colder climates grass starts growing in April, but early spring is a good time to test the soil’s pH so that you can assemble the right amendments. Remove turf damaged by salt, plows, or disease to prepare for the seeding that should follow in a few weeks. Work in a ½-inch layer of compost to keep the new seed moist, increasing the germination rate. Begin seeding once forsythia starts blooming in your area. In warmer climates, March is a good time to add the first dose of fertilizer and crabgrass treatment.

Remove dead turf with a square metal rake, then flip it over to spread compost.

Paths and Patios

6. Neaten Up Hardscape Surfaces.

Rake escaped gravel back into aggregate walkways and patios, and order more gravel to spread in large depressions, which often form near the driveway’s apron. Refill joints between flagstones by sweeping in new sand or stone dust; water with a hose to set it, then repeat. If the freeze-thaw cycle has heaved pavers out of place, remove them and replenish the base material as needed before setting pavers back in. Use a pressure washer with a low pressure tip to remove slippery algae spots or leaf stains from patios and walkways.

Fences and Trellises

7. Patch or replace and paint worn wood.

Remove badly rotted or damaged pickets, boards, or lattice, then scrub wood structures clean with a mix of 2 gallons water, 2 quarts bleach, and 1 cup liquid soap; let dry. Patch rotted sections with wood epoxy; install new wood as needed. Check wobbly fence posts to see if they need replacing (find the how-to at Scrape off old paint, then sand wood all over with 60 grit to prep for a new finish coat. Once temperatures go above 50° F, brush on a new coat of paint or stain.


container water garden

Create a Container Water Garden in Three Easy Steps

container water garden

If you live in a small space, or just don’t want the hassle of caring for a large water garden, you can create a container water garden easily and inexpensively. A container water garden is a beautiful feature for a balcony, patio or terrace. A container water garden could even be sunk into the ground for a permanent feature.

Create aContainerWaterGarden– Choosing a Container

A barrel is an excellent vessel for a container water garden. Choose a barrel that is about two feet in diameter. The minimum depth for a successful container water garden would be about twelve inches. You could also use any container of this size such as an old galvanized sink. However, I’ve found that a wooden barrel is the best for a container water garden.

barrel water garden

You will also want to make sure the container is air tight. To check for leaks, first fill the container with water. Then mark the level of the water and let it sit for a few days. If the water level has dropped, you may need to waterproof the container again before continuing with the container water garden.

Also, before you begin, make sure you have the container in the place you intend for it to stay. Once it’s filled with water, it will probably be too heavy to move again.

Create a Container Water Garden– Step #1

The first step to create a container water garden is to partly fill the container with bricks. This will create different planting levels for the plants you add to your container water garden. You’ll need to make sure that the depths of the bricks are the same as the depth requirements for the plants you’ve selected for the container water garden.

Create a Container Water Garden– Step #2

The second step to create a container water garden is to plant your selected plants in aquatic planting baskets. These come in all shapes and sizes and can usually be found in home improvement stores or gardening shops. For a container water garden, it’s best to choose baskets that are curved and will fit snugly around the edges of the container.

Create a Container Water Garden– Step #3

The final step to create a container water garden is to place the baskets in the container at their recommended depths. Sprinkle loose gravel or pebbles on the baskets to keep the soil in place. Then, add any decorations you like to the container but don’t go overboard. A few strategically placed decorative rocks will be all you need for a container water garden.

Finally, gently fill the container with water and you have a beautiful, easy to care for container water garden.