We almost made it. March did come in like a lion, but there is a lamb around the corner. And it certainly seems like the lamb gets smaller every year. We trade the heat bill immediately for the air conditioner.
Now I have been doing spring clean-ups for more than 30 years, and there is a bit of a surprising reality about spring clean-ups: the longer you wait to do it, the less it seems to need it. In other words, by the end of May, the grass is high, and the new leaves are all out. So regular mowing cleans up a lot of mess on the lawn, and the leaves hide the mess in the thickets, and it seems like spring clean-up is no longer needed.
Nevertheless, even though I know this, in the 4-8 week window while the green is replacing the brown, there is something compelling about a combed lawn and spotless beds. Even though we know it’s not true, it feels like we can hasten spring’s arrival by cleaning our lawns. At least we can feel like we are ready for the season when it comes.
So what chores should we do? First, since winter came so early last fall, many late-falling leaves are pressed into the grass. By harboring disease or simply by smothering the grass, the leaves can damage the appearance of your lawn and should be removed. While you are working in the lawn, picking up sticks can make the lawn safer for you and your lawnmower. In the beds, to me it is obvious that unshredded leaves look out of place no matter if your beds are mulched or not. Red mulch is bad enough, but red mulch partially covered with dead leaves is the worst look.
Spring is also the last chance to do your fall cutting. Cut your ornamental grasses before the new growth mixes with the old. Rake or cut out the old perennials. Prune your late-flowering hydrangeas and roses of Sharon, and take a look at your trees and hedges. If any repair pruning is needed, thinning or otherwise, do it now, and give it the full growing season to recover.
Lawn fertilizing is a toss-up. Too much forced growth will compromise the roots going into summer’s heat. But having a thick turf early can reduce newly emergent weeds. Organic’s slow release is the perfect balance.
What about thatching? First, a lawn fertilized and maintained organically – including one that gets no fertilizer – should not need dethatching. The microbial population should prevent thatch build-up. But for a lifeless, chemical lawn, a thatch layer of more than one-half inch should be removed. The photos paint a compelling, before-and-after vision. My organic lawn has no thatch, but I cannot resist the combed look, so mow-raking is on my to-do list.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.