Get a Head
Start on Spring Gardening
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
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.
Major lawn care
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
Handy gardening tips
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
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
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