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  • Writer's pictureMartin Ford

Getting Your Yard Ready For Spring

Spring is calling – what to pay attention to? Our gardens include hard spaces and paths and sometimes play areas which we clean up after winter, but they require little more from us.

Caring for Your Lawn

Lawns come through winter with some losses and now is a time to overseed so that the emerging seedlings will absorb the available water sitting in the soil and throw down their new roots more deeply.

Firstly, raking the lawn LIGHTLY will remove the larger dead material and then distribute the seed over the disturbed soil surface so the seeds fall between the soil granules. Again, lightly rake a 2nd time to help the seeds find a home. The other reason to rake lightly is that the existing grass roots are not deep at this time of year and so be gentle so as not to disturb them. Once this is done then we can focus on the larger plants of the garden – trees, shrubs, and perennials.

Perennials Require Little Care

Perennials require little care at this time of year as they emerge – lightly digging (tilling) over the soils with a fork creates a lovely fresh soil look and drops the organic matter left from the winter in amongst the soil granules. The sight of fresh soil is very emotive to our senses however, top dressing with organic matter also has that effect and additionally will benefit the soil health for seasons to come. If applicable, remove any dead stems such as grasses down to a lower height so that the new stems do not have to compete.

Pruning Shrubs

Shrubs in our gardens give us the third dimension of height which can mean that they need pruning for many reasons. A healthy plant will want to reach as high as it can get and so in our limited garden space we prune to ‘inform’ the plant that we want them to only reach a certain size.

Pruning is an ‘art’ and very much requires individual response – as a result, the pruning of each plant is its own story. The principal advice I will give at this time is to watch for the new growth and as it gets to be two or three inches in length, pinch out the lead bud. This causes a redistribution of plant hormones and so instead of long shoots the plant produces side growth which is shorter and needs far less pruning later in the season. This is called removing Apical Dominance and is a practice which can be used throughout the growing season so that the plant gets the message to grow less vigorously to suit our garden spaces.

Removing Tree Branches

And trees – they are to be enjoyed – the shade, the sounds of the leaves, the birds, the emerging leaves and flower, the changing shadows, the contrast of evergreens and deciduous forms, the sense of continuity of the years past and those to come, the bark’s uniqueness, and the root flare at the base of a tree as it transitions from vertical and spreads into the soil below us.

The only consideration to think about at this time is to note dead branches, and if more sunlight is desired then plan to remove some of them, but no more than ten percent of the canopy in one year – very important!

There are two principal methods to think about when choosing to remove branches.

Firstly, Raising the Crown which is removing lower limbs where they connect to the trunk. This is something trees do naturally in forests due to competition, so in more open gardens these limbs are likely to be kept but we can choose to remove them and know that we are doing minimal harm since we are replicating a natural feature of the tree’s genetics.

Secondly, Thinning the Upper Crown to let more light through the canopy. This needs to be done by professional tree climbers – however, it is important to only hire people who understand to be gentle, to remove equally over the whole crown and to stick to the ten percent guideline so as not to shock the tree.

Spring is to be welcomed as nature’s gift to us. It is a time to notice and listen.


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