gardener ready for spring cleanup

Spring Cleanup For The Backyard, Lawn, And Landscape

Trimming and pruning. Fertilizing. Dealing with pests. Tackling weeds.

The growing season is on its way, and there is so much to do to get ready. But what is most important? What do you need to tackle first?

Following are 8 spring clean-up tasks you need to take care of if you want your backyard, lawn, and garden to look beautiful this year.

1. Flower Bed Maintenance.      

weeded flower bed before applying mulch

The University of Minnesota Extension advises that once temperatures start increasing, you reduce mulch cover to four inches or less so that mold is less likely to be an issue.

The page also suggests, “Cut-back your perennials to within 2-inches of the ground.  The reason for this is that new buds may be present slightly above ground.” Once growth starts, you should cut them back again.

At that point, the site says, you can begin adding new mulch, but don’t overdo it. Once again, if you pile on too much mulch, you will create an environment where mold can take hold and start infecting your new plants. Also, consider avoiding putting wood mulch on top of landscaping fabric.

2. Deal with Diseased Plant Matter.

old leaves and dead plant from blight disease

On this page, you can find an interview with UW-Extension Plant Disease Specialist Brian Hudelson on spring garden clean up.

During the interview, he points out that if you do not take steps to deal with diseased matter in your garden before planting, your new plants could end up infected.

His suggestion? In some situations, you can actually compost what you find. Otherwise, you can take it to a municipal facility or you can bury it. If you have any concerns about whether burying it or composting it in your yard is appropriate, it is probably best to take it to the municipal facility to deal with it.

3. Protect Your Friendly Insects.

bee on yellow flower

While you are performing spring yard clean up duties, you will probably be clearing away leaf piles and old stems.

But it is important to be extra careful when you are doing both of these tasks. Why? The reason is because during the winter, bees sometimes take refuge in the old stems. The same is true for butterflies in leaf piles.

If you have any doubts about a particular leaf pile or collection of stems, either leave them alone for now or consider relocating them carefully, but otherwise leaving them undisturbed for the time being.

Learn more about looking out for bees and butterflies during spring clean up at the University of Minnesota Extension Yard and Garden News.

4. Rake Your Grass.

early spring cleanup task - lightly raking grass to remove old brush underneath

Along with bed maintenance for your garden, your spring cleanup checklist will also need to include the grass in your lawn and prepping that.

Before you attempt to see to your grass, make sure that the soil is not too soft. Otherwise, it could compact under your feet as you are working. This would cause problems later. If it is still too soft, just wait a little bit until it gets firmer.

Once it does, get your rake and remove dead grass and debris from your yard. As recommended by Michigan State University, you should consider using a leaf rake rather than a garden rake. Doing so should help your grass to grow back more rapidly. The university also suggests that you concentrate on raking sections where damage is pronounced rather than going over your whole yard.

You also should pay special attention to spots where snow was sitting. We’ll expand on the reason later.

5.  Trim Back Your Shrubs and Prune Your Trees.

cleaning up shrubs in early spring

If you have shrubs and trees in your yard, you will also want to get those appropriately trimmed and pruned in preparation for the rest of the year.

To help you figure out whether it is the right time to prune your trees and shrubs, take a look at this spring pruning guide provided by the Oregon State University.

In that guide, you can look up the plant you are thinking about trimming, and check to see whether you should wait till early or late spring to do so. You will notice that there are also some plants that may barely need any attention at all.

6. Deal with Weeds.

bright yellow dandelion weed in the grass

Before you are ready to plant, you will need to get rid of any weeds that are likely to take over your yard. This might include annual weeds, perennial weeds, or a combination of the two.

You can deal with annual weeds by encouraging them to germinate, and then killing them with herbicide.

With perennial weeds, you will need to manually pull out all the ones you can. This process can be more involved than getting rid of the annual weeds. You can get additional details on how to get rid of weeds of both varieties at UC IPM.

7. Fertilize.

late winter grass with snow on it

Many people are tempted to try and tackle fertilizing in their lawn as early as possible to get it out of the way. But if the soil is frozen, fertilizing won’t do any good.

According to this site, it pays off to bide your time when it comes to fertilizing your yard. In fact, you may want to hold off until May. Yes, this does mean ignoring some contradicting advice you may hear in advertisements.

The same page also mentions, incidentally, that you should make sure that you rake anywhere in your yard where snow was sitting for a long time. This was the topic we mentioned earlier but didn’t yet discuss.

The reason is that snow mold fungi may have taken hold during the winter. If you leave the grass laying flat after the snow melts, the fungi can continue to grow. By taking a rake to these spots, you can make the environment less conducive to the fungi.

8. Don’t Forget About Your Water Garden.

water garden with frog and water lilies

If you have a pond or other water feature in your garden, you will have some additional tasks to take care of for spring.

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont, writes that the presence of leaves on your water, sediment at the bottom, and/or murk are all signs that maintenance is a necessity.

According to Perry, you need to deal with the water garden early in spring, preferably while the temperature is no higher than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is easiest to deal with the water garden if nothing lives in it, because you can just drain it temporarily to clean it out.

If you have plants and/or animals living in the pond, you’ll need to get them to a safe place before you can clean. As Perry explains, plants will need to stay hydrated, and fish of course will need to stay in water. You can catch them if you drain most of the water out, and then net them into temporary containers (put the water you just drained out in these).

Needless to say, the faster you can make this process, the better it will be for all your plant and animal life. Get full details at the link if you need to know all the steps for cleaning out your water features.

gardener ready to tackle backyard cleanup project


Now you know some of the most important tasks to put on your spring clean up checklist. Depending on your lawn and garden, your expertise, and the time you have available, you may be able to take care of most or all of these tasks on your own.

But if you need some additional help, you can hire a gardener or landscaping professional. The right landscaper can help you avoid mistakes and achieve your goals for your yard this year the fast and easy way.

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