Spring is here at last! Perennial plants and bulbs planted last fall will begin to unfold in all their glory, adding splashes of colour to bleak lawns and gardens.
This is also the time to ask yourself a question: does your garden and exterior landscape need a new look? More and more homeowners today are looking for innovative ways to beautify their back yards, lawns and gardens – not only for their personal satisfaction but because well-placed shrubs, trees, flowering plants and an attractive lawn can increase their property’s value by as much as 10 per cent or more.
Adding even the simplest patio, walkway, planters, flower beds or water feature can dramatically change the way you experience your outdoor home environment, while adding elegance and distinction to your home. Before you start digging, planting and considering features like ponds, fountains, bird feeders and waterfalls, it is important to plan ahead how you will achieve the effects you want. Whether you are looking at a simple revival or a major landscaping overhaul, it’s a good idea to first try different designs on paper or play around with one of the new landscaping software programs.
While “virtual” gardening calls for a bit of a learning curve, it is a great way to get into the gardening mood long before the soil in your garden is actually workable. Some software packages will let you drag and drop realistic trees, shrubs, flowers, fences and paths, allowing you to do things that are next to impossible in your real garden. But it may be just the thing to help some zealous gardeners set down their hoes until the soil is just right.
Soil must be monitored regularly until the time is right for digging. The rule of thumb for working soil is that the frost be out of it and that it not be water-logged. There also a rule of thumb for removing winter mulch – wait until tulips show 10 centimetres of growth.
Once all the worst frosts have passed, the busy gardening season begins. Digging and turning over the first 15 to 20 centimetres -and adding a combination of compost, peat moss and fertilizer as you go is the best thing you can do for your soil. Unlike compost, peat moss has no nutritional value, but will add fibre and acidify your soil, which is good for most plants. For plants that don’t like the acidic effect of peat moss, you can compensate by adding lime as directed. Lime is also useful for repelling cutworms and earwigs.
Early spring is also a good time to prune fruit trees and other deciduous trees and shrubs. Be sure to dress wounds bigger than 2.5 centimetres in diameter with tree paint to prevent rot and infestation. Conifers have sap that runs in spring and are best left for pruning in early fall. Evergreen shrubs such as creeping junipers and cedars should be left unpruned until their new growth has stopped around mid-summer. To keep them in control, trim them back at least half their new growth.
This is also the time when your lawn needs major attention including aeration -piercing your lawn with holes to allow for better penetration of air, water and fertilizers. This, in turn, encourages new and deeper root growth. Aeration should be done professionally, either by renting the appropriate equipment or hiring a lawn maintenance company to do it for you.
Fertilizing your lawn goes without saying. It is the most important fertilizing treatment for lawns each year. Do it early, preferably using a slow-release fertilizer with a high nitrogen content and after you’ve given the lawn a good raking.
Once you have got all these things out of the way, it’s time to get down to the serious business of gardening. As you decide what to plant where and how and what other features to add to your personal retreat, keep the following tips in mind.
Garden centres and nurseries are mobbed in spring, so be prepared before you get there. Start a shopping list of what seeds, bedding plants and shrubs you are going to need to get your yard in gear. Think of your yard as a cluster of “outdoor rooms”, some for enjoying sunshine, others for growing vegetables and others for appreciating the beauty of flowers, shrubs, trees and foliage plants.
Flower and vegetable beds need a lot of thought and planning, especially if you want continual colour or growth from spring through fall. You may have to plant more than one kind of annual or vegetable in a particular location to accomplish this. You’ll also have to consider other factors such as sun, shade, heat, reflected light, winds and soil conditions.
Prepare the soil a couple of weeks before you plan to start planting. Leave the prepared soil beds idle for about 10 days to allow any weeds time to germinate. Remove weeds before sowing or transplanting the area.
If you are planting seeds directly outdoors, make sure you don’t place them too deep in the soil. Many seeds need exposure to light to germinate. If the plants don’t tolerate frost well at the seedling stage, ensure that all danger of frost has passed. Plants grown indoors may go into shock if not hardened properly before being transported to the garden. This process takes about 10 days. Start by putting the plants outdoors for an hour or two during the hottest part of the day and gradually increase their exposure. Water transplants before you plant them and once or twice every day.
Bedding plants purchased at garden centres or nurseries should already be hardened. Always look for stocky, compact plants that have a healthy green colour. Avoid tall, lanky specimens that have yellow leaves and appear to be stretched. These are already in stress. Never judge a plant by its height. Quality transplants are short with thick stems and have side breaches close to the base.
Consider including more exotic annuals in your garden beds, in addition to the usual varieties. While these often cost more, they also often winter over well in your home, allowing you to replace them outside again year after year.
If you plan to include a water feature such as a pond, fountain or waterfall, plan it into your design in advance and try to keep it simple. To enjoy the visual treat and hear the gentle rolling of water, be sure to place the water feature close to your home or an outdoor seating area.