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Year-round Yard Care

A landscaped yard requires constant attention to stay healthy and beautiful, and each season calls for its own set of chores. Because climates vary widely in the United States, the calendar is an unreliable guide to the seasons. Changes in temperature, soil conditions, and plant appearance are more trustworthy indicators. The last hard frost marks the beginning of spring, when bulbs begin to put out shoots and perennials unfurl new leaves and stems. Rising soil temperature is a signal for preemptive weed control. Agricultural extension agencies monitor soil temperatures and can tell you other ways they affect landscaping in your area. Many flowering shrubs bloom in mid-spring, but rosebuds announce the arrival of summer. In northern climes, cooler nighttime temperatures and falling leaves signal the start of autumn. The first few killing frosts are a prelude to winter, when most plants are dormant and require little more than protection from ice and snow.

A CHECKLIST OF SEASONAL CHORES

EARLY SPRING

  • ✔ Remove protective coverings from shrubs and plants. Remove old mulch or mix it into the soil and lay new mulch; start pruning shrubs, trees, and roses.
  • ✔ Rake leaves from the lawn and ground covers. Reseed bare spots in the lawn, spread fertilizer, and water it. Cut grass as low as recommended (page 50), and begin crab grass control by applying a pre-emergent weed-killer.
  • ✔ Fertilize ground covers, and cut away any stringy top growth.
  • ✔ Spray trees and shrubs with a dormant-oil spray for pest control.
  • MIDSPRING

  • ✔ Cut the grass to a medium height; weed both lawn and garden weekly.
  • ✔ When the soil is moist and easy to work, you can plant or transplant most trees and shrubs.
  • ✔ Edge plant beds; start a vegetable garden.
  • LATE SPRING

  • ✔ Prune shrubs that do not flower or that will flower in late summer or fall. Prune spring-blooming shrubs after they have lost their blossoms.
  • ✔ Check the lawn periodically to see if the soil needs more or less water.
  • EARLY SUMMER

  • ✔ Apply pesticides as needed to control fungus, insects, disease, and scale on any plants that have these afflictions. Continue spraying or dusting roses once a week until the growing season ends.
  • ✔ If you have a pool, this is a good time to plant delicate water flowers, such as water lilies and lotuses.
  • MIDSUMMER

  • ✔ Keep all plants watered well—especially any trees and shrubs planted in the spring—to prevent sun-scorched leaves.
  • ✔ Weed flower beds and shrub beds.
  • ✔ Cut grass about 1 inch longer than its springtime length, to prevent burnout.
  • LATE SUMMER

  • ✔ Start a new lawn or renovate an old one.
  • ✔ Examine plants for possible iron deficiency: If you see yellow leaves with dark green veins, feed the plants with an iron-rich fertilizer.
  • EARLY FALL

  • ✔ Aerate and dethatch the lawn; cut it shorter and at less frequent intervals.
  • ✔ Dig up and move evergreen shrubs and trees or plant new ones. Wait until the leaves fall before moving deciduous plants.
  • ✔ Plant bare-rooted roses. Water new plants regularly and mulch them lightly to deter weeds.
  • ✔ Fall is an excellent time to start a compost pile; use yard waste such as vegetable tops, dead or dying annuals, and fallen leaves.
  • ✔ Deep-feed tree roots.
  • LATE FALL

  • ✔ Clear leaves from lawns and ground covers. Rake up pine needles and spread them as mulch for shrubs.
  • ✔ Give roses, trees, and hedges a final pruning.
  • ✔ Renew or replenish mulch on all shrubs. Break up any old, compacted mulch to allow air and water to reach the roots.
  • ✔ Add dead plants from the vegetable garden to the compost pile. Spread manure or compost in the garden, then turn the soil.
  • ✔ Until freezing temperatures set in, water plants well one morning a week to give them moisture to weather the winter.
  • EARLY WINTER

  • ✔ Cover low shrubs with evergreen clippings; wrap medium-sized shrubs with burlap. Build a shelter over the plants that are near your house, to shield the branches from snow sliding off the roof.
  • ✔ Trim hollies and other broad-leaved evergreens.
  • ✔ Rake leaves from lawns and flower beds.
  • MIDWINTER

  • ✔ Check and repair protective coverings often and, after each snowstorm, gently shake the snow from shrub branches.
  • ✔ Take care not to shovel snow onto plants bordering walks and driveways.
  • ✔ After bad storms, cut broken shrub and tree branches. On mild days, finish pruning trees and shrubs that flowered in the late summer and fall.