Is it my imagination, or was this past winter particularly long, cold and miserable? Ah well, we survived it, and finally spring is here! The snow is gone, the sun is shining, the nice, even coating of road salt has been washed off my truck – hey, it’s blue, I almost forgot! It’s time to retire the snow shovel for the next several months, bring out the yard gear, and get the spring yard care under way. Spending a few hours now can save you a lot of extra work later in the season, and leave you with a healthy, great looking lawn and garden. This article is sponsored by Lowe’s. Aside from great info on whipping your yard into shape, we’ll be sharing our thoughts on much of their new 40V Max line of outdoor power equipment too as an added bonus. Follow along as we show you how to have a great looking yard this summer!
First – Clean Up Your Act!
The first step in your spring yard care journey is to clean up the joint. Winter can be tough on your landscaping; snow and rain can leave the lawn matted and patchy looking. Add to that the leaves and debris that accumulated on the lawn, under the bushes, and in the garden over the winter (and possibly some dog bombs that lay undetected under the snow for a while), and the estate will definitely need some attention.
Grab a rake, a leaf blower, and a garbage bag or wheelbarrow, and head on out. Rake up any stray leaves, twigs and other debris (if you have a dog, proceed with caution; I speak from experience). A blower is very handy for hard-to-reach areas, or for where you don’t want to rake around delicate plants. It also makes it easy to give the driveway and sidewalk a quick clean-up. We tried out Lowe’s new Kobalt 40V Max Blower. (Lowe’s provided some tools from their Kobalt 40-Volt Max lineup for us to evaluate). It did a nice job of moving the accumulated leaves and crud from behind (and under) the shed, from around the hosta plants, and off the porch and walkways.
It’s very convenient, just slap a battery in and pull the trigger! Way faster and easier than schlepping out and dragging around an extension cord, or doing the gas/oil mix routine (and breathing the gas/oil mix fumes). It’s also lighter than a corded or gas-operated unit, which my wife appreciated (and as always, Happy Wife, Happy Life!). When you’re finished raking and blowing stuff around, scoop up all your twigs, clipping and debris, toss it into your compost pile, and admire the tidiness.
Stake Out Your Turf
Looking better? Great! Now it’s on to the maintenance. Let’s start with the lawn. For most homeowners, it’s the biggest item on the spring yard care agenda. Every year or so, it’s a good idea to open that lawn up so you can get some water and nutrients into it. Hit your local tool rental place or home improvement store and rent an aerator. An aerator actually “ventilates” your lawn by making holes in the surface, either by the use of spikes (a spike aerator) or by actually removing a plug of earth (you got it – a plug aerator).
Aerating your lawn as part of your spring yard care regimen is beneficial in many ways. It allows water, oxygen and fertilizer to more easily penetrate the surface and get to the lawn’s roots, which means healthier grass (and fewer weeds!). This also helps prevent rainwater from running off. Aerators are available in different types to suit your patch of turf. Got a postage-stamp (but still potentially beautiful) yard? There are hand-powered models, and even a pair of spiked sandals; careful putting THOSE on. A bit bigger? Rent a self-propelled model; they look like a cross between a lawn mower and a tiller. Got some acreage there? You can get a unit that attaches to your garden tractor.
According to the pros at Lowe’s, whichever tool you use, aerate your lawn using the same pattern as you would when mowing. Afterwards, rake to remove any soil plugs or wait for them to dissolve naturally. If you want, top-dress with compost or peat moss to further enrich the soil. You can also apply seed and fertilizer after aerating, and late spring is the best time to aerate warm-season grasses. More information on aerating your lawn is available here.
Got A Bare Spot – Or Two?
If your lawn is a perfect carpet of lush grass, congratulations – you’re a member of a small elite minority! More likely, though, your lawn has a few spots that emerged form winter looking a bit raggedy, thanks to sleds, dogs, and/or Mother Nature. You could follow the example of one of our neighbors, and tear out your lawn and replace it with Astroturf. A less drastic choice is available though: do a little re-seeding.
If you have just a few bare spots, all you need is a bit of spot seeding. First, prepare the soil by getting rid of any dead grass and weeds. Loosen the soil, and get it fairly even, then spread grass seed over it and lightly rake it in. Next, mulch it with a thin layer of straw, and give it a light watering. While the new grass is getting established, it’s important to keep the soil moist, but not saturated; light, frequent watering is your best bet. If your lawn has extensive damage, planting grass seed for the entire lawn might be your best bet. The link also provides watering tips and what types of grasses do best in various climates.
Once the lawn is opened up and patched up, it’s gonna be hungry! According to the experts at Scotts, feeding your lawn is the most important thing you can do for it. Regular feeding makes for a healthier root system, which helps the lawn resist disease, pests, and kids crisscrossing it on their bikes. In springtime (April through June), the tasty treat your lawn craves is a weed ‘n’ feed – a combination of fertilizer and broadleaf weed control. If you’ve done some re-seeding, make sure you follow the directions on the package before using any weed control products. For more tips on keeping your lawn fed year ‘round, see these tips from Scott’s.
It’s Mower Time!
Now that the lawn is all aerated, touched up and fed, it’s probably growing like crazy. That’s your spring yard care payback – you now get to maintain it! It’s worth it, though, because a well-mowed lawn is a thing of beauty to behold.
When it comes to mowing, there are a few choices. Worried about emissions, and want to get a good workout? A push reel mower is your dream come true. This choice is best for those with small lawns, good stamina, and the self-discipline to not let the grass get too high before mowing (trying to get through 12” of grass with a manual push mower is not for wussies).
Since most folks don’t have the time, or the energy, to commit to a manual mower, the most popular spring yard care grass tamer is the gas-powered mower. Power mowers are available in many sizes and styles, from a $99 mower that you push, to a self-propelled unit with big tires, to a hop-on-board zero-turn mower costing thousands of dollars. Your options are limited only by your budget (and the size of your storage shed!).
Another type of mower that has been around awhile is the corded electric mower. Some of these mowers have power and features similar to those of some gas-powered machines, without the noise and gas fumes. Naturally, there are some disadvantages, too – if you have a large yard, you’re gonna need a long extension cord. And if you run over that extension cord, you’ll need a few tools and some minor electrical repair skills, along with some special phrases from your DIY vocabulary.
The latest contender vying for a spot in your spring yard care stable is the cordless electric mower. With power and features comparable to those of many corded electric models, the cordless mowers are quick and easy to get into action. Just slide a battery or two out of the charger, pop it into the mower, and go. No cord to untangle, no tugging on a starter rope, and no special DIY vocabulary required. We got a chance to try out the Kobalt 40-Volt Max 20-in Cordless Electric Push Lawn Mower. Here’s a quick video overview on the 40V Max mower:
To be honest, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by its performance. I figured a battery-powered mower might be fine for a small lot, but ours is 80’ X 280’. Additionally, it had rained pretty much every day for the past two weeks. The grass, in addition to being wet, was a tad higher than the normal recommended cutting height. When we finally got a break in the rain, I fired it up and tackled the yard.
Even though the grass was wet, the Kobalt mower did a pretty good job of cutting and bagging it. I did the first half of the lawn with the bag on, then removed it, inserted the mulching attachment, and finished. The blades spin in a “power-saving” mode until they encounter particularly high or thick grass. Fortunately for our test, there was no shortage of that. The mower then kicks into turbo mode until the grass returns to normal.
The mower comes with two 40V batteries, a 4Ah and a 2Ah, which are both inserted when you start. It runs off the 4Ah battery first, and when it’s about done, the mower automatically switches over to the backup battery. The mower did the entire yard, which took about an hour and twenty minutes, and still had two out of four bars left on the second battery at the end. It’s way quieter than my power mower, it’s lighter, I didn’t spill gas all over it, and there’s no starter rope to wrestle with. What’s not to like!
Whatever type of mower you use, here are some tips from Lowe’s that apply to every mowing job: Mow when the grass is dry. The grass will be upright and less likely to clump when cut. Rule number one, and I broke it – but if I hadn’t, this post might have had to wait until July! Do your mowing during the cooler parts of the day, so you don’t stress the grass—or yourself. Keep your mower blades sharp and balanced, to avoid ragged cuts. Leave clippings on the lawn unless they form clumps or rows; this technique returns nutrients and nitrogen to the lawn. Lots more lawn mowing tips available from Lowes as well.
One thing to remember if you did some re-seeding: it takes new grass about three or four weeks to get established. Stay off it during that time, and don’t give it its first haircut until the grass is about an inch taller than its recommended mowing height.
Spring Yard Care For Your Trees
Now that the lawn is softer and more beautiful than a 60’s shag rug, it’s time to branch out. Your trees may have come through the winter looking a bit scraggly, too. Trimming the dead stuff will make them look better. Selectively trimming when you have multiple branches will help to promote new growth where you want it. It will also allow more light to penetrate the canopy, and keep branches from rubbing against one another.
To properly prune a limb, make your first cut a foot or so away from the tree trunk, on the bottom side of the limb. Cut about a third of the way through. Make your second cut about a foot further out, on the top side of the branch. Cut all the way through. The branch will break off while you’re cutting, but because of the first cut on the bottom, the limb won’t peel the bark back from the tree as it falls. After the limb is down, make a final cut just outside the branch collar.
Note: Many trees are better pruned in late fall through late winter. Doing so makes them less likely to be affected by insects or disease. For information specific to your region, check with the Cooperative Extension System Office nearest you.
Once the deadwood is gone, make sure your tree is well-nourished. Most established trees don’t need special feeding, but they all need enough water. Generally speaking, soil should be moist to a depth of 12-18”. To make sure enough water gets into the soil, use a soaker hose or root irrigator; a long, slow soaking works much better than a quick soaking with the hose to get enough water down to the roots. You can help hold the moisture in by adding about a 3” layer of mulch around the tree. Just be sure to keep it at least 6” from the trunk, to prevent rot and insect infestation to the tree. If your tree is getting enough water, but the leaves or needles look sickly or light-colored, it may not be getting enough nutrients. You may want to consider getting your soil tested, to find out what nutrients you could add to improve your soil’s, and tree’s, health.
Over The Hedge – And Around The Hedge
The final stop in our spring yard care circuit is in bush country. Shrubbery and hedges can make great border or accent plantings, assuming they’re not all raggedy and overgrown. Most hedges need at least a couple of trimmings every year: once in spring, and again as needed in summer.
Start by cutting the sides of the hedge. Cut in a sweeping arc; if you have double-sided blades on your trimmer, you can cut on both the up and down stroke. Start at one end of the hedge, and work your way to the other, trying to keep the face of the hedge as even as you can.
Now move on to the top. Hold the trimmer as perfectly horizontal as you can, and sweep it in a scything motion across the top of the hedge. If you’re a perfectionist, you can set up a couple of tall stakes and stretch a string across as a height guide. Otherwise, just pick a part of your body to reference off of, and unless you work at Disney World or the Biltmore estate, it should be close enough. Toss the clippings on your compost heap, and you’re done! Grab an appropriate beverage, pull up a comfy chair on your porch or patio, and survey your beautiful domain – your spring yard care is complete!
If you’d like more tips on yard and garden care, Lowe’s has some great resources for anyone looking to get their spring yard care underway – or for any time during the year, for that matter. You can choose your region, and get tips on planting, pruning, plant choices, and much more, with information specific to your region. We were impressed with the Kobalt 40-Volt yard tools; they worked well, come with a five-year warranty, and make a great alternative to gas-powered equipment. Other users agree; the tools have overwhelmingly positive reviews on Lowe’s web site. For a medieval look at their line of Kobalt 40-Volt Max yard tools, check out this video: