Yard Work Clockwork
10 Must-Do Tasks and When to Do 'Em
By Ann Wilson, Geneva, Illinois
Winter, spring, summer and fall...every month of the year provides opportunities for do-it-yourself home owners to improve the view outside their windows. By tackling the right chore at the proper time, you'll fashion a lush and healthy landscape that beautifully endures through every season. Since climates vary across the country, use the following as a guide to setting up a yearlong to-do list that's in tune with your region's growing conditions.
Task 1: September until ground freezes
Plant for Next Year
Autumn's cool temperatures and generally fine weather allow gardeners to extend their time outside. Fall's the ideal time to reseed lawns—cool temperatures and regular rainfalls promote grassy growth.
It's also the perfect season for planting spring-blooming bulbs, new perennials, trees and shrubs—all of which should be in the ground by the end of October so they have time to establish roots before the ground freezes.
Divide and transplant peonies and early-blooming perennials, such as heuchera, Oriental lilies, irises, phlox, poppies and daisies.
Task 2: October and December
Make Use of Fallen Leaves
Don't bag raked-up leaves! Instead, shred them with the lawn mower or chop them up with a hoe. Add the leaves to our compost heap or use them as mulch to carry your plants through winter. Spread the chopped-up leaves over tidied-up vegetable gardens and place them at the base of trees, shrubs and perennials. This extra layer of protection moderates the soil's constant thawing and freezing—which causes plants' roots to heave—and prevents the growth of early-spring weeds. The leaves also decompose to feed the soil and supply shelter for insects that sustain winter birds.
Task 3: December and January
Recycle Christmas Trees
Instead of tossing your Yuletide fir on the curb, put it to good use. Lay cut-off boughs on frozen soil to protect marginally hardy plants and untimely growth during winter thaw. If you've got a wood chipper, grind the trunk and thick branches into chips, which you can add to your compost heap or use as mulch next spring. Or, simply place tree and stand in a corner of your yard to supply shelter for overwintering birds. Deck the boughs with suet, orange halves and seed balls to lure more birds to your landscape.
Task 4: January and Febrary
Rejuvenate Trees and Shrubs
Grab your loppers and pruners to revitalize trees and shrubs. The leafless silhouettes of dormant deciduous trees and shrubs make it easy to see their structure and spot branches that need trimming. (Wait to prune spring-flowering shrubs until after they flower—these shrubs flower on last year's wood, and pruning at any other time eliminates all or most of the flowers.) Remove crossing, broken, diseased and dead branches and reshape overgrown shrubs by thinning out the oldest and thickest branches.
Task 5: March
Schedule Spring Cleaning
Take advantage of the occasional warm day to start cleaning out flower borders. Cut down ornamental grasses to about 6 inches, and cut back left-standing perennials, including purple coneflowers, sedums and Russian sage. Gently push perennials that have heaved from the soil back into the earth. Brush mulch away from spring bulb foliage that's emerging. Pull out any annuals or vegetable plants that were left in the ground through winter.
Task 6: March and April
Prepare Planting Beds
As soon as soil is dry and workable, turn it over in vegetable and annual flower beds. Break up dirt clumps and remove weeds and rotting roots from last year's plantings. Give soon-to-be-planted seedlings and transplants a leg up by enriching the soil with compost or manure.
Task 7: Early to Mid-April
Foster Healthy Lawns
If you want a good-looking, weed-free summer lawn, start grooming the grass in early spring. Before new grass sprouts, rake lawn areas to remove old thatch. Rent an aerator to ease compaction of grass roots. Finish reseeding by mid-April (mid-May in northern climates) to allow roots to become established before temperatures heat up. Keep the new seeds watered well. Dig up dandelions when you see them amid the turf.
Task 8: Late April to Early May
Double Planting Options
Divide late-blooming perennials, such as hosta, rudbeckia, obedience plant, turtlehead, purple coneflowers, daylilies, asters, mums and sedums, and transplant the divisions to fill out borders or to gift to gardening friends. Check borders for plant volunteers that may crowd other plants, and give them room to shine elsewhere in your gardens. Purchase garden-center perennials and shrubs, and install in your landscape.
Task 9: Early to Late May
Round Out the View
Shortly after your area's last frost date has passed, plant annuals and frost-tender vegetables and herbs in prepared beds and containers. Work compost around flowering plants, or begin regularly applying fertilizer. Add at least 2 inches of mulch around perennials, shrubs and annuals—thick layers of mulch can be added throughout the summer to deter weeds, discourage water evaporation and keep the soil cool— and will eventually break down to nourish the soil.
Task 10: June Through August
Tend What You've Planted
Check gardens daily for problems, including pests, yellowing or diseased leaves, broken stems and weeds. Deadhead annuals and perennials to encourage continuing bloom. During hot, dry periods, pay special attention to watering and check containers daily for watering needs. Throughout the growing season, make sure garden plants average about an inch of water a week. Remember that soil in containers and raised beds tends to dry out quickly and requires frequent watering.