Work-Saving Ideas for Spring-Cleanup Time

Front yard with wheel barrow

Prioritizing jobs and working in zones are ways to streamline the busy garden time of early spring.

The brink of spring is a busy time in the garden. Between cleaning up from winter and setting the stage for this year’s new growth, lots of jobs need to be done in a relatively short time. Make it manageable by streamlining some of the jobs, skipping a few altogether, and prioritizing the rest.

In general

  • Don’t overdo it. Repeating the same motion hour after hour invites soreness and injury, so vary the work. 
  • Break the yard into zones. Make things more manageable by turning a big job into several small ones, dealing with each in turn.

Jobs you can skip

  • Tilling. Tilling stirs up buried weed seeds, kills earthworms, and makes soil more prone to compaction – especially if you work it when wet.
  • Leaf-raking. No need to rake every last leaf out of the yard. Just mow over light layers on the lawn, and toss a little fresh mulch over loose leaves (remove large matted ones) in garden beds. In due course leaves will break down, and add nutrition and organic matter to the soil.
  • Removing spent foliage. Dead stems and leaves from many of last year’s perennials can be mulched over, instead of being cut and removed. Push them down with your foot if they’re dead but still upright. Limit removal to ones that are too big to hide with mulch or that were diseased or bug-ridden.
  • Braiding and cutting bulb foliage. Twisting bulb leaves into braids reduces the plants ’ ability to recharge with sunlight. In the meantime, tuck them under the leaves of developing perennials. Wait until leaves yellow, then step down and mulch over them when they become dormant.
  • Using pruning sealant after pruning trees and shrubs. Save your time and money. Sealants aren’t necessary and sometimes increase the odds of infection by trapping moisture. Pruning wounds are best left to air-dry.

Ways to make jobs easier

  • Prevent weeds. The best way to deal with weeds is to prevent new ones before they grow, by applying Preen Garden Weed Preventer. It stops germination of new weeds but doesn’t kill existing weeds. Start with a clean slate by first removing any existing weeds. Then apply Preen granules to stop new weeds, before they grow. Water it in to activate the protective weed barrier. You can also apply it right before rain, so the rain waters it in for you.
  • Use better tools. Quality tools that are the right size make any job much easier. Consider longer-handled tools to ease bending-over jobs. Look for ergonomic tools to prevent wrist and finger strain. Always keep tools sharp.
  • Keeping grass higher. Reduce lawn work by cutting the grass higher, letting the clippings lie instead of bagging them. Fertilize with slow-release fertilizers that encourage steady, long-term growth instead of mow-inducing spurts.
  • Use annuals strategically. Reduce planting this spring by siting new annuals in key spots, in pots, and in window boxes. Convert more of the in-ground space to lower-care perennials and groundcovers.
  • Use permanent bed perimeters. Eliminate future bed-edging work by laying pavers or bricks around bed perimeters. This holds in mulch and discourages grass from growing into the beds.
  • "Prune" with your mower. Rather than use pruners or shears to cut back last year’s growth of groundcovers, such as lilyturf (Liriope), leadwort (Ceratostigma), and deadnettle (Lamium), run over the foliage with a mower with the blades set high. This removes the spent foliage off the top without damaging the crown where new growth will emerge. The cut foliage can be left to decay in place.
  • Make trimming easier. Bundle ornamental grasses by tying string or a bungee cord around them before cutting. When you cut the blades just above the base, the whole bundle drops at once, saving you the work of having to rake up individual cut blades.
  • Mulch first, plant second. Instead of planting a new bed and then mulching around the newly-installed plants later, it’s easier to mulch the bed first, and pull mulch aside as you plant.
Flower bed edge pavers

Use brick or paver borders to eliminate the need to edge beds each season to keep them tidy.

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