And with all of us working at home due to the Corona Virus, a little more time to work in the yard! I can’t complain as this is my “office” view of the magnolia and a few hellebores on my desk.
This is what you need to be doing so you can spend May buying plants!! And note that some good perennials start going for sale in April, which are totally safe to plant as long as they’ve been outside.
- Thorough leaf cleaning of the yard. We rake onto tarps and drag into the woods, use a high powered leaf blower and also a lawnmower to pick them out of the grass. If you get most of them up, you can use mulch to cover some in your flower beds. Leaves will just compost and mulching right after makes everything look neater. Here are a few before and after shots from the last three weeks:
- As you do the leaf cleaning, cut down all the perennials left over from last year. Cut off the old daylilly brown leaves all over the ground, rip off the old sedum stalks, hosta stalks, tall phlox, cut down all the old peony stalks (but be wary of the new shoots!), cut down the grasses and get those leaves out of the base of your shrubberies! No easy way to do that. Just dive in and get them out by hand. I use a very small plastic rake to try my best before hand picking them out.
- Take a break and have fun. Order a few more bulbs! I just ordered 20 (more) dahlias, some calla lillies and a bunch of caladiums. All of which need digging up for the winter. I may have accidentally killed all my old dahlias leaving them dug up in the garage too long causing them to mold. I have little hope.
- If you’re making a mess while cleaning up leaves with all the perennial rubbish, you might as well do some pruning as well of your hydrangeas, spireas, Montauk daisies, and any boxwood hedges you have. This boxwood hedge is AFTER pruning. I like to keep them natural looking and dive right in to cut out some of the big branches just trimming a little at the end. Getting light in there will keep it healthy all the way thru the shrub. That debris took up a lawn bag or two all on its own! I think I also made about 10 trips dragging branches out to the trailer between what I pruned and just branches that had come down due to winter storms.
- Before laying down mulch, edge and get the grass out of the beds! This is very important. You need a 2″ clean vertical cut for grass not to grow into the bed. I have some rubber bed edging that always needs cleaning out as the mulch/dirt eventually covers them and they don’t prevent grass that well so I always have some work to do. Pretty fast work though and nothing is better than a good looking edge to your beds!
- Trim your crabapples if you need to. Tall husbands useful here. Remember your rose gloves as doing battle with crabapples is not for the faint of heart!
- Spread down some grass seed for all the bare spots. Our front yard always looks ragged from the critters and from me dragging big branches through it…
- Clean and reactivate any birdbaths and ponds. Get those dead frogs and snakes out of there!
- Take a half day and go out to a local nursery and buy a few of the always good, cheap perennials you can never have enough of prior to mulching. I just brought home a few more columbines (my husband calls them chlamydias but that is a sexual disease…), hollyhocks, some spring flowering low growing clumps of something I can’t remember now, and pansies for the front window box.
- Rake those leaves gently off all the daffodils coming up! Their yellow leaves will turn green in time.
- Take a few hours and have fun pulling out all your pots and setting them up. Important to get the dirt wet again as it has dried out all winter. I pour water in and am very careful before planting. Leaving them out a few weeks before you try to plant helps a lot. You’ll also have to freshen up the dirt in them anyway with a little compost/manure. Don’t forget to put them on feet so they can drain.
- Get out the hoses! I have converted to the very lightweight, expandable hoses so those are simple. We need the old, long rubber ones to drain the pond. Nothing is worse than rolling up a hose. That is my husbands’ job.
- Also important is to address the varmit holes… as soon as the leaves are up, spread down some mole away typically made up of castor oil to make them go away (or at least into your neighbors yard!!). The hole below belongs to a very cute groundhog who eats all my plants. I don’t want to kill the guy and am in a quandry right now with what to do about him. One year I did try to bomb his hole but ended up poisoning and killing a crabapple tree instead. Every afternoon I see him taking a stroll through my garden. For the little voles/moles, you can use some chlorine pellets if you cover up the hole after.
- And very importantly, PULL UP ALL WEEDS BEFORE MULCHING! You are wasting your time mulching if you do not do this. Avoiding weeds and stopping them from coming back is the entire point of mulching. Don’t be lazy and cause yourself extra work a few weeks later when your newly mulched beds end of being the perfect backdrop for a bunch of weeds!
- Only now should you mulch.
- If you mulch NOW, in April, you will do a preemptive strike on weeds and save yourself a ton of work. There are just a few short weeks to do this before all hell will break loose. I start with 10 cubic yards. For beds with few weeds that still have mulch left, I may just do a sprinkling of it. For weedy areas, I put down a good 2-3″. To calculate how much you need in cubic yards, do this math:
Approximate square feet you need, for example 100 s.f.. Multiple by 3″ converted to feet to get cubic feet and divide by 27 to convert to cubic yards. There may be free delivery if you order some amount so ask about that. They like to deliver on a tarp. make sure to weight down the edges as it will blow away. I put bricks, logs or pieces of slate around it and once it is down, keep it covered with a tarp so it doesn’t get soggy and blow away.
Example: (100 feet*(3 in)/(12 in/ft))/27 = cubic yards
- Sweep after you have cleaned up the leaves and put down mulch. Nothing is worse than dirt all over your patio and paths and driveways.
- Make sure that when you cleaned up, you exposed the true edges of your patios. Often grass can grow over the edges slowly shrinking down your playspace. Show it who’s boss and scrape it off with a trowel!
- Put out your patio table awning. Ours still has a hole in it from last year when my husband killed a wasp with a blow torch under the awning and caught it on fire…
- Set out the tiki torches!
- Take a break the few days you might get a snow if living in NH! This was last week …typically melts within a few hours. This is the reason that you have to wait to plant annuals. I had already purchased a few pansies so made sure to cover them with a plastic bag for snow and freezing nights and they are still doing fine.
A note on child labor:
It it wonderful.
The last few years I have been hiring neighborhood kids to help bring me wheelbarrows of mulch while I lay it down which is awesome! I also have them do the edging and often, dig me new beds as mine are always expanding a little…. Delete and repost your advertisement in facebook if some local mother writes that you aren’t paying her kid enough. Minimum wage for someone not old enough to work is apparently not enough in my neighborhood…..why try and thwart me?!
This year of the corona virus, it was up to me and my strong husband to do it all. While working at home, we’ve been power mulching for 30″ a night during the week.
What not to do:
- Cut down any lavender. It looks like crap right now – that is normal. Leave it alone.
- Dump mulch over little plants coming up. In beds with a lot of plants, I use a wide toothed, heavy rake to gently shake the mulch over top of them or manually lay it down. Covering up most things with a little bit of mulch won’t hurt but i wouldn’t bury tender leaves of a little lungwort or columbines or tulips.
- Do not mulch around the base of trees – that will kill them. Leave the tops of the roots or the flare at the bottom free. Any landscape company that does this is a bunch of hacks.
Do not work so hard it is not fun. I’m giving you a little crap and trying to scare you to mulch early – which is important – but enjoy your time out there. Talk to your neighbors. Commiserate about the groundhog. Divide a few daylillies and share. Sit down and enjoy being outside with the sun on your face. Tell your hard working husband how great is doing (positive reinforcement!) and don’t forget to stop for a 5pm “zoom” cocktail with your friends (corona times…).
Garden on my friends!