Spring Maintenance: Lawn & Garden Cleanup

Spring Maintenance: Lawn & Garden Cleanup

Once again, it’s the time of year we wait for all winter… Spring! While the planting and growing season is more than a month off, you can prepare now by cleaning up and preparing your lawn and gardens.

If appropriate for our hardiness zone here in Stratford and Perth County (zone 5-6), plants, trees, and grass stand up fairly well to a blanket of snow and cold temperatures. However, conditions can fluctuate throughout the season which can stress exposed vegetation. This winter was a particularly icy one, so you may find more damage than normal, now that a lot of the snow has melted.

We’ve been receiving a lot of calls already for those interested in our lawn and garden maintenance services, and we hope to start visiting customers in the very near future. However, if you’re a DIYer, here are some tips for preparing your landscaping for the upcoming season.

LAWN CARE

Doing a bit of lawn cleanup and maintenance in the spring can help ensure a healthier lawn through the summer while minimizing weeds, so it’s definitely worth investing the time and effort.

It’s important to rake your grass. You definitely want to clean up any leaves and debris that has accumulated over the winter. More importantly though, you want to rake deeply to remove thatch. If left intact, thatch blocks air, water, and nutrients from getting down into the soil. Before you rake however, ensure that your ground is relatively dry to prevent damage to the grass’ root system and avoid compacting the soil, which will happen if you walk on it while it’s wet.

Compaction can be an issue as well. If soils are too compacted, air, water and nutrients are not permitted to get where they need to go efficiently. Aeration is the best way to remedy compaction. Be aware though that the soil cores that are pulled out of the ground during aeration can make a mess, so it’s best to keep lawn traffic to a minimum for a few days after it’s done.

If you notice some bare spots in your lawn, you might consider overseeding. However, overseeding is best done in the fall, as crabgrass is much less of a threat after the first frost. So, consider either waiting until fall, or reapplying in the fall.

Finally, you may opt to fertilize your lawn. If you fertilized in the fall, your lawn may still be digesting residual fertilizer. However, if you do proceed with a spring application of fertilizer, we recommend using a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20) which will help green up the lawn. In addition, the rhyzomes fill in the weaker areas and strengthen the root system. Of course, you can go the organic route as well, by simply top dressing your lawn with an even layer of compost.

GARDEN

As with your lawn, the first thing you want to take care of in your garden is the removal of weeds, dead leaves and debris that’s landed there over the course of the winter. Not only does this make gardens and flower beds look better, but it drastically reduces opportunities for mold growth. You can either remove by hand or lightly rake your gardens to eliminate surface debris. More stubborn foreign objects can be removed with a hoe or small trowel.

After a good general cleanup, remove any wrap or covers that you placed on or over your trees and plants for the winter season. If you’re storing the covers, ensure they’re clean and dry before putting them away to avoid mold and rot from setting in while in storage.

Check plants and trees for damage. Treat or prune away damaged parts if possible, or remove the entire plant if it didn’t overwinter well. Some pruning might be necessary in the spring, but ensure you know the appropriate time of year to prune the plants and trees in your yard. Pruning at the wrong time can negatively affect new growth, flowers, and fruit.

Edging around flower beds is an easy way to increase visual appeal. It also helps keep weeds from creeping in. You can also edge your lawn where it meets the driveway and walkways.

Once the risk of frost has passed, turn your soil with a shovel or small tiller to work in any remaining organic matter and to aerate the soil, which tends to get compacted over the winter. Then you can apply additional soil, compost, and/or amendments to adjust the soil’s pH or increase nutrition.

Spring is a good time to divide your perennials, but be sure that you wait until the risk of frost is no longer an issue. Be sure to add soil and nutrients to backfill newly vacant garden areas as well as the areas you’re transplanting to.

Finally, consider adding a layer of mulch to all of your gardens. Not only does it improve the look of your flower beds, it also insulates your soil against extreme heat, helps retain moisture, and keeps weeds at bay.

All of these things can help you ensure a beautiful, healthy lawn and garden for what we hope will be a long, sunny season ahead. As always, if you’re not a DIY gardener or would like to leave yard maintenance to someone else, we invite you to contact us about our services.

Planning and Design Tips for Your Garden

Planning and Design Tips for Your Garden

When it comes to garden design, many people know what they like when they see it, but just don’t know how to transform their garden from its current state to what they envision. There’s a lot to consider – your preferred style, available space, soil type, irrigation, sun exposure, and maintenance expectations.

Gardens take time, energy, and money to establish and maintain, but starting with a plan can help minimize ongoing cost and effort. When customers call A Touch of Dutch Landscaping & Garden Services we create a plan that incorporates all of the aforementioned considerations. But if you’d like to create a plan of your own, here are some tips for creating something that will work for you and your outdoor space.

Understand Your Space

While we recommend you have at least a general idea of the space you’re working with, many find it helpful to draw or map out the space to get an idea of square footage, nearby elements, sun exposure, and more.

If you are making over an existing garden, consider what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Regardless of whether you’re updating or starting from scratch, think about the location of the garden. Is it against a fence or wall, around a porch, deck, or patio, or will it be exposed on all sides? You’ll want to select plants in a range of sizes to add dimension, and whose height and width will be appropriate for the size of the garden without contributing to a too-sparse or overcrowded appearance.

Understand Your Style

One of the worst times to decide on your style is probably when you’re at a garden centre or nursery. Everything on display is typically in season at that time and so their showy foliage and/or blooms are competing for your attention. Instead, make note of designs that you’re drawn to.

Whether you’re using magazines, Pinterest, or Houzz, or even out and about in your own neighbourhood. Take pictures or jot down notes about general styles and specific elements that you like. This practice really helps inform your plan, so that when you go shopping for plants, you don’t get swayed by some pretty shrub that’s not remotely close to what you’re after.

Understand Your Maintenance Threshold

Maybe you’re a green thumb. But, maybe you’re not. While some amount of maintenance is required for every garden, regardless of style or size, there are ways to minimize the amount of upkeep required to ensure a landscaping project continues to thrive, long term.

If you’re updating an existing flowerbed, consider which individual plants require the most maintenance and get rid of them. When planning for new garden elements, be aware of drought tolerance, sun exposure requirements, standard height and width projections, preferred soil types, and what else is or will be planted in the space. If you make poor plant choices, keeping them alive is going to require more effort than you might be willing to expend. Things like extra watering, fertilization, amending the soil, and trimming might be added to your to-do list on a regular basis.

When you’re putting your plants in the ground, consider adding a layer of mulch or stones. Not only do these extra layers help keep weeds at bay, but they also add a layer of insulation to the soil, keeping warmth in while slowing down evaporation. This means both less weeding and less watering!

Understand Your Limits

If you’re short on time, energy, inspiration, or knowledge, consider leaving the design and installation to a professional landscaper. This will this ensure your project gets done in a timely manner. What’s more, your wishes will be factored into the landscape design to ensure that the end result is beautiful and done right, and meets your design standards.

If you do want to enlist the services of a landscaping company, the sooner you contact the landscaper the better. While we don’t generally start installing softscaping, hardscaping, and water features until May, planning, design, and scheduling gets underway much earlier in the year. So, by the time planting season actually rolls around, we already have much of our season planned. And weather is a big factor, too. Cold weather that persists longer than usual into the spring or that starts earlier than usual in the fall affects our schedule, as does each day of inclement weather during the season.

There’s a saying that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. That’s probably as true in landscaping as it is in anything else. Having a garden plan can save you time, effort, and money, before during and after you plant. So, investing some time and effort into formulating a plan will pay off. And if you aren’t up for doing it yourself, contact us to discuss how A Touch of Dutch Landscaping & Garden Services can help you design and install the garden you’ve been dreaming of.

Protect Your Lawn, Garden, Trees, and Shrubs from Winter

Protect Your Lawn, Garden, Trees, and Shrubs from Winter

In Southwestern Ontario, we’re generally finishing up putting our lawns and gardens to bed for the winter. While some do very little but cut back spent seed heads and dead foliage, others employ measures to cover and protect every tree, shrub, and plant on their property. An approach that falls somewhere in between is generally best to avoid plant and tree loss and ensure a healthy start the following spring. Here are some guidelines to help you ensure you’re adequately protecting your lawn and garden in the winter.


LAWN

Getting your lawn winter-ready takes very little effort. In fact, you may already be doing most of the items on this short checklist already.

Keep it short
Grass generally stops growing after day time highs remain below 10°C. Your final cut of the season should be between two and two and a half inches. Grass that’s too long may fall over through the winter, encouraging fungal growth. Grass that’s too short leaves it susceptible to stress due to the cold.

Keep it clean
Remove all furniture, toys, and debris (including any notable accumulation of leaves) from your lawn to avoid damage that results in bare patches come springtime.

Minimize traffic during transition
Dormant grass that doesn’t yet have a good layer of snow on it yet can be damaged quite easily when walked on. Try to stay off of grass during this transition.

Keep it insulated
A blanket of snow serves to insulate your lawn during the winter. Once the snow flies and starts to accumulate, keep your lawn blanketed all winter long.


PLANTS, TREES, AND SHRUBS

There are a few factors that determine your need to protect plants, trees, and shrubs during the winter:

Exposure to the elements
If a location is exposed to excess wind, snow melt, and/or ice, the vegetation in that area may break or even die before or by the time spring arrives. In addition, if relatively horizontal limbs are suddenly laden with heavy snow or ice, they might bend or even break as a result.

Exposure to road salt
Trees and shrubs that are close to roadways or are in the line of fire when snow is being displaced from roads, driveways, and walkways,

Your plant hardiness zone
Our region (Stratford and surrounding area) is generally classed as hardiness zone 5, so your garden should consist of plants and trees that thrive in this zone. If you’ve tried to push the limit with some of your selections (vegetation that’s appropriate for warmer hardiness zones), you’ll need to take special care to prepare them for winter in Southwestern Ontario.

How well-established the plants in question are
Well-established plants and trees have strong root systems that help sustain them through the cold winter months. On the other hand, those that have been newly planted or moved, particularly after the beginning of September, have not had sufficient opportunity to get established and so will require protection this winter.


HOW TO PROTECT YOUR PLANTS, SHRUBS, AND TREES

If your plants do need to be protected, there are three primary methods used, depending on the plants in questions and what you’re needing protection from.

Wrapping
Wrapping with burlap and twine can protect shrubs from salt spray, drying winds, and/or heavy snow and ice. You might opt to protect younger evergreens and shrubs from frost and heavy snow with a teepee instead, which can be made out of burlap and wood stakes or plywood.

Mulching
A 4 to 6-inch layer of mulch on vulnerable or newly established plants will protect them from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing which can plague our region this time of year.

Mounding
This is simply the act of piling soil up around the base of a plant, and is a great way to protect plants and bushes that are cut back at the end of every season. Mounding is commonly done with rose bushes and hydrangeas, as it protects them from exposure to prolonged cold, ensuring a healthy plant, come spring time.

If you haven’t taken measures to protect your garden yet, an early layer of snow may have you feeling like you’ve missed the boat. However, most vulnerable plants will still benefit greatly from protection, so it’s not too late. Regardless of how long winter is, you can still use the tips above to avoid plant loss and help guarantee a beautiful start to next year’s growing season.

Fall-ing for Ornamental Grasses

Fall-ing for Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses have long been a staple in landscape design, offering a contemporary edge to flower beds, acting as natural privacy screens, and adding visual interest, especially this time of year. And they’re fairly hardy, which means than we can enjoy a wide variety of grasses year after year, with minimal maintenance requirements.

In early to mid-fall the seed heads of many ornamental grass varieties come into flower, creating showy plumes that add texture and or colour to your home’s exterior appearance. So while deciduous trees start to shed their leaves, and the plants that beautified your gardens all summer start to die off, ornamental grasses are just hitting their aesthetic stride.

This leaves many homeowners wondering what to do with these grasses come this time of year, when yard clean-up is underway. You want to get the job done but it seems a shame to cut down these beautiful plants in their seasonal prime.

Essentially, you can’t go too far wrong here. If you prefer to clean everything up now, yielding a clean palette on which winter can blanket snow, then proceed. What’s more, warm-weather grasses are generally spent by this point and may not be terribly pretty anyway, so prune away.

Just be sure to wear long sleeves and gloves to protect against cuts from sharp grass blades. You might even consider protective eyewear, depending on how deep into the grass you need to get to adequately trim it back. The last thing you want is the sensation of paper cuts on your eye balls!

While we understand the desire to wipe the slate clean in the fall, there are a few good reasons for leaving your ornamental grasses be until the spring:

  1. As previously mentioned, the tall grasses, fronds, and seed heads add visual interest to what can otherwise be a flat, white landscape during the winter.
  2. The sturdier stems provide a place for winter birds to perch while seed heads offer them some nourishment.
  3. If you use your ornamental grasses as a natural privacy screen, they can continue to do their job through the winter.

Whether you prune now or wait until the spring, there are a few things you can do to make clean up as simple as possible without damaging new growth.

  1. Again, wear protective clothing (long sleeves and gloves) and protective eyewear.
  2. Gather up and secure all blades on a plant. You can either use a few blades of grass from the plant itself or something like garden twine to secure the foliage, which makes cutting a breeze and allows you to haul away everything away in one neat trip.
  3. Use clean, sharp garden shears appropriate to the size of plant you’ll be trimming. Tools that are too small for the job demand extra time and effort to get the job done, while tools too big for the job might be unnecessarily unwieldy.
  4. If cutting in the fall or before new growth begins in the spring, you can trim the plant back to the ground or within a few inches. If new growth has begun, trim the foliage back to just above the new growth, which will quickly overtake the dead stalks obscuring them from view.
  5. Although the initial cutting might create a bit of a choppy appearance for what remains, be sure to smooth out the remaining mound by giving it another little trim.
  6. Finally, to ensure a healthy start for the new growth, clear away any loose or matted dead material between the mound’s shoots.

In the spring, we’ll create a post that will provide some guidance about selecting and planting ornamental grasses, in case you’re interested in getting started with them or want to add more to your existing stock. In the meantime, enjoy your existing grasses, as many are at their best right now.