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Yard Clean Up - Time to Get Busy, Spring is here!


Published: 04/30/2013

by Richard Rix

Spring marks the beginning of the busy season in the garden and the earlier we start, the better. Don’t be too eager
though. With Toronto’s atypical weather patterns, you’ll have to monitor the soil regularly until the time is right. The soil shouldn’t be worked until the frost is out of it, and not at all if it’s waterlogged.


As for removing winter mulch, a good rule of thumb is to wait until tulips show 10 cm of growth. Be especially careful
cleaning up those sunny banks and borders where the snow melts first. Good insects such as ladybugs winter over in such places, among pine needles and similar debris. Destroy their homes now and they won’t survive any icy nights
still to come.


Early spring is a good time to prune fruit trees and other deciduous specimens. If you can, dress wounds bigger than

2.5 cm in diameter with tree paint so as to prevent rot and infestation. It’s not the best time for major pruning of conifers though, as their sap will be running. Leave them until early fall, if you must prune them at all.


Most deciduous shrubs should be pruned and trimmed in early spring, and don’t hold back on them. They mostly respond

well to tough love and will grow healthier and bushier as a result, though your efforts may result in the sacrifice of some

of this season’s flowers. Generally, prune out an old branch or two and shape the rest so that growth is outward from the centre, to open up the shrub to light and air.


Evergreen shrubs such as creeping junipers and cedars are another matter. Leave them until their new growth has

stopped – Canada Day is about right – then cut back half the new growth. Some, such as rhododendrons, rarely need

pruning at all, except to pinch out terminal, non-flower buds and later to snap off the seed heads.

 Of all the favours you can do for your beds, digging and turning over the top 15 cm to 20 cm is the biggest. It beats
fertilizing or composting, though a combination of all three is dynamite. If compost is scarce, dig in an inch or two of peat moss. Unlike compost, it has no nutritional value but will add fibre and acidify your soil, which most plants

 By the way, anything that you sprinkle on the beds will make a wonderful cultivation marker, showing you where you have,
or haven’t, dug.

The lawn needs attention now and I heartily recommend aerating it with a gas-powered aerator that punches plugs out of the
soil. Do it when the ground is soft but not muddy.

And yes, spring fertilizing of the lawn is the most important one of all. Do it early with a good quality fertilizer,
preferably a slow-release one with a high nitrogen content (the three numbers
on the bag are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, in that order).


First though, give the lawn a good raking, just to spruce it up and to get rid of winter’s accumulation of junk.  


Richard Rix writes and gardens at his Toronto home. This is an edited version of an article that was previously
published in Home Digest.



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