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April 13, 2013

Now is time for yard repair, preparation

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The Daily Star

---- — April can be delightfully sunny and warm one day and raining with cold winds or even a surprise snowstorm the next. The spring bulbs are starting to bloom, but it’s still not time for planting. But there are plenty of other yard tasks to be done on those nice days.

Three professional local landscapers indicated that the first thing to do in spring is a basic walk-through assessment of winter damage, followed by a general cleanup of your property. Cody Schmitt of Precision Lawn Care in Jefferson, Seth Whittaker of Down to Earth Landscaping in Delhi and Brent Trimbell of Lasting Impression Landscape in Hobart offered suggestions for tasks that everyone should do. 

“Regular spring cleanup involves anything from fixing plow damage from the previous winter season to cleaning up branches and sticks, anything that the snow and the wind may have knocked down,” Schmitt said.

In addition to picking up fallen debris, Whitttaker said that “spring is also the right time to de-thatch the lawn in areas where there has been winter kill and to rake up any gravel or other material left by the snowplows before fertilizing the lawn for the first time.”

Trimbell recommended applying lime to the lawn. Even if there is snow on the ground, “it helps the lime dissipate into the ground a little bit better,” Trimbell explained. Of course, those April showers also help the lime and fertilizer sink in.

Pruning is the next step, but only for some trees and shrubs. Evergreens and hedges should be pruned as they begin new growth. Apple, cherry, peach, plum and trumpet vine should be pruned in early spring. Certainly, Schmitt said “if you’re going to do any pruning in the spring, you want to do so before the buds come out.” This means it’s already too late to prune many plants, as the buds are clearly visible on many flowering trees by this time. 

But some shrubs and small trees are exceptions to that rule. Forsythia, rhododendrons and dogwoods should be pruned right after flowering, because the buds that produce next year’s flowers form during the late spring and summer. If you prune those plants in early spring or in the fall, you’ll cut off many blooms. Broken or dead branches can be pruned at any time.

Early spring is also the time to spray fruit trees with dormant oil to ward off insects. It must be done before the buds open or the oil will damage the flowers that produce the fruit. It’s also a good time to fertilize fruit trees.

As the season progresses a bit, you can plant trees and shrubs as long as you can dig in the soil. If it’s very wet, though, it’s better to wait for it to dry out so that the soil doesn’t get compacted.

That first early walk-through might reveal problems with paths, stone walls or other stone structures. But while those problems are visible in the very early spring, that’s not necessarily the right time to address them. 

“Typically I like to wait until the frost is out of the ground before setting paving stones or building retaining walls,” Schmitt said. “When there is frost in the ground, the heaving process can cause a lot of movement.” 

Trimbell said that repairs of certain damaged structures might require a two-stage approach of deconstruction before construction. 

“If a flood goes through and damages a retaining wall along a stream bank, we will go in and clean up the debris from the damage, salvage whatever is still usable to rebuild the wall and the stream bank, then, if need be, bring in new materials such as large rocks to retain the bank wall,” Trimbell said, adding that he is beginning a project of that type at an area school. 

Stepping stones and pavers can generally be replaced or adjusted easily by the do-it-yourselfer. The key, Schmitt said, is the base: “Three or four inches of gravel or a round stone, compacted, with about two inches of sand on top of that.” A properly prepared bed will mean fewer adjustments and repairs in the future. 

For bigger jobs, it might be best to call in a professional.

Another project that the homeowner should tackle in the spring is adding mulch in spots where it has started to break down. Wood chips, compost or shredded leaves all suppress weeds, retain moisture and eventually enrich the soil. 

It’s also a good time to prepare for new or returning tenants. Clean out the bird houses, and get hummingbird feeders ready (mid-May is the right time to hang these).

And if it’s still cold, or even snowing, clean and oil your garden tools. Spring will certainly arrive, and when it does, you’ll want to be ready to enjoy it.