Now that the wintry weather is gone and the colorful blooms are back, it’s time to think about spring cleaning. But while you’re washing windows, scrubbing walls and dusting corners inside the house, don’t forget about rolling up those sleeves and giving the outside a once-over, too.
Spending some time in the backyard as soon as spring rolls around can really pay off. “Winter can leave a lawn in pretty tough shape,” says backyard expert Michael Miller, president of backyard tool manufacturer Hound Dog Products. “But there are lots of little things you can do to help spruce up your backyard when the weather starts to turn warmer. By digging in to cleanup in early spring, you’ll be ahead of the game, and your neighbors will be playing catch-up all year long.”
Miller offers seven tips that the professionals use to ensure a successful backyard spring cleanup effort -- and to help your home’s outside sparkle and shine as vibrantly as the inside.
• Rake. As soon as the lawn begins to wake up for the season, give it a light once-over with a rake, taking care not to disturb any new grass plants by raking too hard. In addition to clearing leaves, twigs and other debris left over from last fall, the first raking of the year also allows you to assess the extent of any winter damage to your lawn. Look for early signs of pests or disease, and nip them in the bud before they cause big problems.
• Aerate. Heavy use throughout the year can cause soil to become compacted. Removing plugs of sod in the spring -- aerating -- loosens the soil and lets water, air and fertilizer get down to the grass plant’s root structure. For smaller yards, or for concentrated trouble spots in any size yard, consider using a manual aerating tool that removes plugs from the turf. If you have a large yard, consider renting a power aerator.
• Top dress. After you aerate, spend a few minutes doing what the experts call “top dressing,” spreading a thin layer of peat moss over the lawn with a rake. The top dressing helps to gradually condition the lawn throughout the year, strengthening the grass so it can resist disease, weeds and thatch, and reducing the amount of water and fertilizer it needs.
• Weed. Go after weeds early in the season before they have a chance to go to seed. Cultivating a healthy lawn is one of the simplest ways to crowd out weeds. Or, remove dandelions and other broadleaf weeds with an easy-to-use weeder. Ergonomic tools like the Weed Hound have helped make long afternoons spent weeding nothing more than a backbreaking memory. All you do is place the tool over the weed, step lightly on the footrest, and pull the weed up, root and all.
• Fix bare spots. Whether it’s due to disease or dog urine, bare patches can make a yard look shabby. A quick and easy way of improving the look of your yard is to repair the discolored patches, especially in early spring, when the cooler temperatures help the grass grow. Just clear away the dead-looking patches, sprinkle grass seed on the newly exposed soil, add fertilizer, and keep the area moist until it sprouts.
• Remove thatch build-up. Thatch prevents sunlight, oxygen and moisture from getting to the nutrient-hungry soil below. But it’s easy to remove, especially if you do it regularly -- every year or two. Just go at the yard with a dethatching rake or power dethatcher to clean away the layer of tangled roots and stems. It takes some elbow grease, but it will help clear the way for new growth.
• Give your tools a spring tune-up. Spend a few minutes in the garage or storage shed making sure your tools are in good working condition -- before you need to use them for the first time. Consider taking your lawn mower in for an annual tune-up. The dealer can replace the oil and spark plugs, sharpen the blade, and get it ready for the season.A little effort in early spring can lay the groundwork for a thriving, healthy backyard -- and have your neighbors turning green with envy.