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Outdoor spring cleaning is more than cosmetic

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  • Ethan LaForte, owner of Ethan's Landscapes & Design, uses a power sweeper to remove sand and salt from his yard, Wednesday, while prepping for the spring season in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ethan LaForte, owner of Ethan's Landscapes & Design, uses a power sweeper to remove sand and salt from his yard, Wednesday, while prepping for the spring season in Hadley.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Kinchla of Amherst Nurseries uses a tree spade to harvest a young oak tree at Amherst Nurseries on Wednesday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    John Kinchla of Amherst Nurseries uses a tree spade to harvest a young oak tree at Amherst Nurseries on Wednesday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Julie Meyer, left, of Gardens of Delight of Northampton gave client Phyllis Barrett some tips on getting ready for spring like cutting back these ornamental grasses in the yard of her Granby home - which Barrett had already done.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Julie Meyer, left, of Gardens of Delight of Northampton gave client Phyllis Barrett some tips on getting ready for spring like cutting back these ornamental grasses in the yard of her Granby home - which Barrett had already done.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Julie Meyer, right, of Gardens of Delight in Northampton works with one of her clients, Phyllis Barrett of Granby, with tips on getting ready for spring like creating an air border and 30 degree bank between her plantings and lawn.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Julie Meyer, right, of Gardens of Delight in Northampton works with one of her clients, Phyllis Barrett of Granby, with tips on getting ready for spring like creating an air border and 30 degree bank between her plantings and lawn.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Julie Meyer of Gardens of Delight in Northampton demonstrates the proper pruning technique as she helps client Phyllis Barrett get ready for spring.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Julie Meyer of Gardens of Delight in Northampton demonstrates the proper pruning technique as she helps client Phyllis Barrett get ready for spring.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Julie Meyer of Gardens of Delight in Northampton demonstrates the proper pruning technique as she offers client Phyllis Barrett tips on getting ready for spring.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Julie Meyer of Gardens of Delight in Northampton demonstrates the proper pruning technique as she offers client Phyllis Barrett tips on getting ready for spring.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Julie Meyer, left, of Gardens of Delight in Northampton works with one of her clients, Phyllis Barrett of Granby, with tips on getting ready for spring like creating an air border and a 30 degree bank between her lawn and plantings.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Julie Meyer, left, of Gardens of Delight in Northampton works with one of her clients, Phyllis Barrett of Granby, with tips on getting ready for spring like creating an air border and a 30 degree bank between her lawn and plantings.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Steve Rusiecki, left, and Will Edmonstone, right, use burlap and a basket to protect the root ball of a young oak tree just harvested by John Kinchla, in tractor, at Amherst Nurseries on Wednesday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Steve Rusiecki, left, and Will Edmonstone, right, use burlap and a basket to protect the root ball of a young oak tree just harvested by John Kinchla, in tractor, at Amherst Nurseries on Wednesday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Kinchla of Amherst Nurseries uses a tree spade to harvest a young oak tree at Amherst Nurseries on Wednesday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    John Kinchla of Amherst Nurseries uses a tree spade to harvest a young oak tree at Amherst Nurseries on Wednesday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ethan LaForte, owner of Ethan's Landscapes & Design, uses a power sweeper to remove sand and salt from his yard, Wednesday, while prepping for the spring season in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ethan LaForte, owner of Ethan's Landscapes & Design, uses a power sweeper to remove sand and salt from his yard, Wednesday, while prepping for the spring season in Hadley.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ethan LaForte, owner of Ethan's Landscapes & Design, prunes a tree in his Hadley yard, Wednesday, while prepping for the spring season.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ethan LaForte, owner of Ethan's Landscapes & Design, prunes a tree in his Hadley yard, Wednesday, while prepping for the spring season.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ethan LaForte, owner of Ethan's Landscapes & Design, uses a power sweeper to remove sand and salt from his yard, Wednesday, while prepping for the spring season in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • John Kinchla of Amherst Nurseries uses a tree spade to harvest a young oak tree at Amherst Nurseries on Wednesday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Julie Meyer, left, of Gardens of Delight of Northampton gave client Phyllis Barrett some tips on getting ready for spring like cutting back these ornamental grasses in the yard of her Granby home - which Barrett had already done.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Julie Meyer, right, of Gardens of Delight in Northampton works with one of her clients, Phyllis Barrett of Granby, with tips on getting ready for spring like creating an air border and 30 degree bank between her plantings and lawn.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Julie Meyer of Gardens of Delight in Northampton demonstrates the proper pruning technique as she helps client Phyllis Barrett get ready for spring.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Julie Meyer of Gardens of Delight in Northampton demonstrates the proper pruning technique as she offers client Phyllis Barrett tips on getting ready for spring.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Julie Meyer, left, of Gardens of Delight in Northampton works with one of her clients, Phyllis Barrett of Granby, with tips on getting ready for spring like creating an air border and a 30 degree bank between her lawn and plantings.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Steve Rusiecki, left, and Will Edmonstone, right, use burlap and a basket to protect the root ball of a young oak tree just harvested by John Kinchla, in tractor, at Amherst Nurseries on Wednesday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • John Kinchla of Amherst Nurseries uses a tree spade to harvest a young oak tree at Amherst Nurseries on Wednesday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Ethan LaForte, owner of Ethan's Landscapes & Design, uses a power sweeper to remove sand and salt from his yard, Wednesday, while prepping for the spring season in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Ethan LaForte, owner of Ethan's Landscapes & Design, prunes a tree in his Hadley yard, Wednesday, while prepping for the spring season.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

Spring has arrived a little later than usual this year. Regardless, preparing your lawn and gardens should start as early as the weather allows.

“Start early. That will get you ahead of the weeds,” said Julie Meyer, of Gardens of Delight in Florence.

Before you do anything with your lawn and gardens, Meyer advises taking a good long look at your property. She suggested even looking at an aerial Google map to get the best overall picture.

“I come from a design point of view, so first you want to think about what activities you want to pursue on your property. What types of gardens? How much lawn do you want to care for, or do you want to convert your lawn to something more useful?” Meyer said.

Different parts of your landscape require different types of maintenance. A few experts will help to break it down.

Lawns

“You want to get any type of sand and salt off of the grass first thing,” said Ethan LaForte, of Ethan’s Landscape and Design LLC in Hadley. “Salt kills the soil, so it’s a really important thing to do.”

LaForte recommends using a stiff broom or renting a power sweeper (about $49 average for a half-day rental) to get as much salt and sand off the lawn as possible.

“Rakes have too much space between the tines to do a good enough job,” he said.

LaForte then suggests hosing off your lawn to dilute or wash off any residual salt. So that your lawn can flourish as the season warms, John Kinchla of Amherst Nurseries recommends also raking your yard really well to get up all the dead leaves, twigs, thatch and other debris left over from winter.

“Raking also allows you to pull up dead grass. This will help let air in and allow fertilizer and water to reach the roots better,” Kinchla said.

LaForte takes the idea a step further by suggesting either the use of an aerator or purchasing special shoes that have long nubs on them to walk around your yard and aerate the lawn.

“Children playing on the grass or heavy snow are just two things that can compact your lawn. You want to be able to get oxygen in there,” LaForte said.

He added that there are also aerators that can be attached to lawn mowers and pulled behind.

Meyer said it is best to have at least 9 inches between woodlands and lawn areas for easiest maintenance, and LaForte said it’s a good idea to edge your lawn to discourage grass growth where you don’t want it and to give a cleaner look to your property.

Lastly, LaForte recommends fertilizing your lawn after cleanup and aeration.

“I use corn gluten 800. But, you want to just make sure you have an appropriate mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium,” he said.

Perennial gardens

“After you clean out all the debris from the previous year, I recommend applying a good layer of mulch to head off the weeds,” Kinchla said. He added that a well-mulched perennial bed can discourage weeds and create more visual appeal for about two years before you need to apply another layer.

Kinchla said it is best to use ground wood chips and bark because they break down more slowly and are less likely to significantly rob the soil of nitrogen. By the same token, he said, fine material such as sawdust should not be used. He explained that nitrogen is part of the microbial process when materials are breaking down in soil.

“Look at your gardens early and decide what you want there. It’s easier to plant first, then mulch,” Kinchla said.

LaForte added that you should mulch to the base of the plant and not mound it up or over the plant, because the mulch will keep moisture where it shouldn’t be and cause rot on the plant.

Before you plant, Meyer said, you want to observe where you have sun and shade, how much moisture (rain or stream/marsh seepage for example) or dryness an area has before planting, so that you can select the best plants or shrubs for the designated area.

Annual flower, vegetable beds

In a chorus of agreement, all three garden specialists said it is important to know the composition of your soil, especially for annual vegetable and flower beds.

“The secret of an amazing garden is amazing soil,” LaForte said.

He made a comparison between the soil in Belchertown (very poor) and the soil in Hadley, which he claims is the best in the world. Deficiencies in the soil need to be dealt with first, he said.

“A soil test is like a blood test. If your soil is too acid, you’ll want to add lime,” he said.

You can get kits for $10 to $15 at garden centers or online. Local extension services also usually can provide soil testing. Both Meyer and Kinchla said it is best to start as early as possible preparing annual and vegetable beds, again to get ahead of the weeds. LaForte recommends turning the soil in your annual or vegetable bed over, while some people prefer to simply mulch heavily. Meyer prefers to mulch with straw or hay because they add nourishment to the soil as they break down while discouraging weed growth and retaining good moisture and temperature levels.

If you do choose to turn your soil over, that is the time to add compost, manure or any other soil enhancements. Some people prefer to turn soil over with hand tools such as tined forks, while others prefer to use a rototiller.

If you are planning to be away during the summer, Kinchla suggests using drip irrigation for watering, which you can either lay down yourself or have professionally installed. “You can even have a timer set up on your spigot,” he said.

Trees, shrubs and roses

“During winter, branches get broken. In the spring it’s a good time to examine your landscape and prune out broken limbs,” LaForte said.

He added that leaving dead or dying material on a tree or shrub invites disease, and recommends using really sharp saws and pruners for the same reason.

“You need to make really clean cuts. And for roses, you want to prune in the spring when the forsythia is done blooming,” he said.

Meyer recommends pruning trees in spring before they “leaf out,” and pruning flowering shrubs such as forsythia after they flower.

“Some bloom on old wood and some bloom on new wood,” she said.

Kinchla suggests having a “saucer” effect around trees and shrubs, mounding about 3 inches around the base with soil and mulch, which he says helps bring water down to the roots. Low mounding also helps to protect the roots and keep temperatures more consistent.

Final tips

“When starting out for the season, ask yourself what your motivation is and why. People generally want to grow as much food as possible, or as much beauty, or engage in physical activities outdoors,” Meyer said.

Kinchla said to remember that slow-release fertilizers will work as the temperatures rise during the season. He suggests fertilizing then mulching.

“The mulch will be warmer than the air, allowing fertilization to happen sooner,” he said.

Lastly, while no one likes to think about it, as soon as things warm up, out come the ticks. Meyer strongly recommends carefully doing full-body checks and getting clothing you’ve worn outdoors straight into the washer and hot dryer to kill any ticks that are hanging on.

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