Spring Landscape Maintenance Tips

Advice on Garden Preparation, Pruning, Fertilizing, Lawn Care

Working in a spring garden
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Steven Errico/ Getty Images

Read these spring landscape maintenance tips as soon as Old Man Winter eases his icy grip on your gardens, so that you can hit the ground running once warmer temperatures prevail. For those of you who have large lawns, spring cleaning in the yard has its share of lawn chores. But there is much more to take care of, whether it be pruning the winterkill off an arborvitae or getting rid of dandelions.

Some of it is fairly obvious (such as remembering to remove any burlap that you have used for winter protection for shrubs), but other tasks are easy to overlook.

It is with the latter that this Q&A deals. We will begin at the top with links to answers to some of readers' more pressing concerns. With those out of the way, later we will look in detail at other spring landscape maintenance issues that you may have.

  1. When Do I Take the Mulch Off My Perennials in Spring?
  2.  What Do I Do With Old Mulch? Is It Still Good to Use or Do I Just Get Rid of It?
  3. What's the Most Effective Preventive Maintenance Measure I Can Take in Spring Against Crabgrass?
  4. How Do I Know What the Right Time Is to Prune a Particular Shrub?
  5. The Spring Rains Are Seeping Into My Basement. How Do I Get the Proper Grade Near My Foundation to Channel the Water Away?
  6. I Want to Drain Water Away From My House, but I Don't Know What to Do With It? What's an Acceptable Area for the Drain to Spill Into?
  1. I Have Caliche Soil. How Can I Improve It?

When Is It Safe to Plant Annuals in Spring?

Local frost dates determine when it is safe to plant annuals and vegetables in a particular region. For annuals you will be transplanting from pots, six-packs or flats bought at the garden center, it's safe to plant when the last frost date is past.

For seeds that are expected to sprout in two weeks, plant the seeds two weeks prior to the last frost date.

Old-timers often have rules of thumb for planting times for a given area of the country. For example, in New England, U.S, gardeners traditionally planted their annuals around Memorial Day (late May). Alternatively, you can find out when the projected last frost date is in your area by checking with your local county extension office.

How and When Should I Apply Lawn Fertilizers in Spring?

Slow-release lawn fertilizers are generally the best type to apply on your grass. That addresses the "how" part of the question. Bu what about the "when?"

Scotts provides a four-part schedule for you to go by if you wish to know, more or less precisely, when to apply lawn fertilizers, beginning with your spring grass. The best time to spread fertilizer on your lawn will depend on where you live and your grass-type. For much more about getting your grass ready in spring, consult "Spring Lawn Care."

Of course, if you prefer to shun conventional practice, the organic route is always a possible alternative: Use compost.

How Often Should I Be Fertilizing Older Trees?

That older tree looming so large in your yard may seem to be beyond the need for tree fertilizers. But that's not the case. So how often should you fertilize long-established trees? Some arborists recommend that you do several feedings a year but that you go lightly with each feeding. In fact, it is good advice in general to err on the side of less rather than more when fertilizing plants, since over-fertilizing can cause significant damage.

While you have fertilizing on your mind in spring, it is a good idea to hit your ground covers with fertilizer, too, after removing any fallen leaves, dead branches, and other refuse that has accumulated in them.

What Do I Do With a Cover Crop Now That Spring Has Returned?

First of all, what is a cover crop? Cover crops are plants that are primarily planted not to be harvested for food but for soil erosion control, for weed control (in which case they are designated a "living mulch") and as a soil amendment (in which case they are synonymous with "green manure crops"). An example is winter rye (.

From the landscape designer's perspective, the choice between various cover crops could be influenced by aesthetics, since the cover crop is, after all, taking the place of garden plants in between growing seasons. As such, it makes sense that it might be selected partly with an eye to its appearance, in addition to practical considerations. However, when plants are chosen to cover the ground based mainly on aesthetic considerations, they are no longer considered "cover crops." Instead, such plants are classified as ground covers. Furthermore, while most cover crops are planted with the intention of tilling them into the soil later, ground covers are not tilled into the soil.

Gardeners on large properties sometimes sow a cover crop on a vegetable garden or annual flower bed in the fall to protect the land in winter from erosion and to improve its soil. When spring comes and you are preparing the garden for planting again, you need to get the cover crops out of the way. But you can kill two birds with one stone: Rototilling cover crops both frees up the garden for spring planting and puts nutrients into the soil.

Mow cover crops first, then run the rototiller over the garden -- a process known as "tilling under" the cover crops. By mowing first, the garden tilling will go easier, since you will be tilling shorter vegetation. After mowing, spread compost over the same garden bed, and till that under, too, just as you would even in beds that did not have cover crops.