Spring cleaning in the yard

This winter has been hard on the trees in our area. The rain, wind, and ice took down a lot of twigs and branches, and many trees toppled over pulling their root systems right out of the wet ground. As a result, we have a lot of yard work to complete at our new house, and we’ve decided to take an organized approach to getting it finished.

  • Research yard debris collection options in your area. Many cities and counties will collect sticks left on your curb and turn them into mulch for parks and gardens. Some areas have trucks that suck up leaves that have been raked into street gutters. If none of these options exist, you may wish to invest in a wood chipper to create your own mulch.
  • Trim tree limbs and bushes. In addition to it being aesthetically pleasing, it’s also good to take down any limbs that might have been damaged but haven’t yet fallen to the ground. Large branches may need to be professionally trimmed and hauled away for disposal.
  • Pick up sticks. Any fallen sticks you can easily carry and small limbs you trimmed should be picked up and gathered into a pile.
  • Prune plants. If any of your plants require spring pruning, now is the time to do it. It’s also nice to prune back and edge any plants that have grown onto paths or out of their containers.
  • Rake. Dead leaves, plant prunings, and tiny twigs should be raked up and gathered into the gutter (if your area has vacuum trucks) or composted.
  • Clean outdoor furniture, hose down paths and patios, sweep stairs, etc.
  • Draw a picture and make a list. If you plan to add new plants, bushes, flowers, or trees to your yard, do what a landscaper does and create a drawing of how you want your yard to look. From this drawing, make a list of the plants you want to purchase before heading to the nursery to make purchases.
  • Plant or transplant any flowers, bushes, or trees you wish to add to your yard that have recommended spring planting dates.

I prefer to do yard work over the course of a few weekends instead of investing all of my effort into one very long, yard work-focused weekend. I’m also trying to get our new yard full of plants that are easy to maintain, so there hopefully will be less yard work come next spring. How do you tackle the work in your yard? Do you take an approach similar to mine, or do you work in sections and do everything for that section? Share your expertise in the comments so we can all benefit from your experience.

15 Comments for “Spring cleaning in the yard”

  1. posted by Bob Runte on

    I’m handicapped, so I have to take my outdoor work in stages also. Fortunately, our town has a site to dump yard waste and tree branches at. They burn the tree branches (which I don’t like) and compost the yard waste and grass clippings. After it’s composted it is made available to the community free of charge. My first project this year is to trim my crab apple tree. The nice thing about the trimmings from crab apple and apple trees is that people who smoke meat will take the trimmings to use in their smoker.

  2. posted by Scott K. on

    I used to try to do everything in one afternoon, but now if I do that I’m exhausted for the next day or so. Having said that, the more you can get done early on, the more you will enjoy being outside in the yard the rest of the year.

    Don’t forget to account for tasks that need to be done earlier in the season, like fertilizer or weed & feed. Most weed killers – natural, organic or conventional – need time to work, and often should only be applied right after it rains. Again, you’ll be glad you did it later in the season.

  3. posted by John M on

    Please don’t encourage people to push their yard debris into the street. It is hazardous to drivers and pedestrians and will clog street drains and sewers. Bag up leaves and debris to be composted or start your own compost pile.

  4. posted by Jane on

    Please also encourage readers not to use water to wash down paths and driveways. I realize lots of the US gets more water than we do in CA, but we, along with much of the West, is in the midst of a severe drought and should be conserving water. Besides, you get a much better workout sweeping and shoveling.

  5. posted by Another Deb on

    I am guilty of impulse buying at the home improvement store, ending up with bedding plants that sit around after the weekend is over and end up frying in their tiny plastic cartons because I had not prepared their home first. I tend to be distracted by many yard tasks once I get started.

    Make a plan FIRST for what you will plant and where. Decide how many plants you need and what kind/color you are looking for.

    Prepare the flower beds or the containers NEXT. For large shrubbery, even get the holes dug and stakes in place. Be sure you have enough fill soil or mulch to cover what you plant. (I tend to run out of potting soil for containers)

    FINALLY, on a day you have energy and time, go buy the plants. You can pop them into the ground and get them watered-in as appropriate.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @John M — In our area, we are told we must put leaves in the street gutter. The machines can’t vacuum them up otherwise. Obviously, if you don’t have this service in your community you wouldn’t rake leaves into the street.

  7. posted by Kat on

    I second Jane. Please don’t waste water while cleaning up the yard.
    I would also add that you should pick plants that are good for your climate, so if you live in Southern California don’t plant an English garden. Or acres of grass.

  8. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    I have an acre yard that was awesome when my kids were growing up. Now it is just a lot of work! Luckily one son is still living at home and as part of his “keep” he does the yard work. He is young and strong, he’ll be tackling the clean up soon!
    Not sure what will happen once he moves! Would love to sell this house & move to a smaller house & yard, but don’t think that is feasible right now!

  9. posted by Grammie Linda on

    @John M–THANK YOU. In Minneapolis it is ILLEGAL to put leaves and other yard detritus into the street. While Erin’s community prefers this procedure, many communities have trouble with the effects of the runoff from leaves in lakes and rivers. DO NOT look at the city workers picking up leaves in the street OR the neighbors using this method–OR telling you that it is OK–and think it is OK. We have plenty of people who persist in the practice despite the public notices to the contrary. Do as Erin did and CALL or GO TO THE WEB SITE to find out how your community wishes you to handle yard debris.

  10. posted by irishbell on

    i didn’t know there was a problem with folks putting their yard debris in the gutter if it was not a city service. i guess some people are always looking for the easy way out.
    in my old neighborhood there was a woman across the street who would stand for hours with the hose, washing down the driveway, the sidewalks, watering her yard by hose. i would look at her and think, why is she wasting water doing that, when she could sweep? again, taking the easy way out. she also mowed her lawn twice a week….she was an oddball.
    i tackle one section of the gardens at a time, and try not to overdo it, a couple hours per day. i have spent far too many days with an achey back and legs from going gun-ho.

  11. posted by Mags on

    We’ve done a garden swap this spring, so I spent an afternoon helping a friend clear hers and then she came over and helped on mine. Same amount of work done but more sociable and feels like less of a slog as you see results much faster.

    My council do a garden waste scheme that runs in the growing season (March-November) so I use that for compostable rubbish. If your local authority does run a scheme, please check what can be taken. For example, in the UK Japanese Knotweed is not accepted as it needs to be destroyed, not composted.

    Also, don’t clear up too much! Leave an area scruffy to attract insects and other beneficial animal life to your garden. You can build a logpile especially to encourage things. I’m encouraging lacewings, for example, as they eat the aphids off my roses and save me effort and chemical nastiness. Wildlife doesn’t like a spotless garden!

  12. posted by lucy1965 on

    If you live in an urban area in the US, please call your Public Utilities department and talk to someone in Streets and Sanitation before you begin your clean-up: I live in the high desert in the Intermountain West, and I promise you that few things will set your friends and neighbors off faster than the sight of someone using drinkable water to clean the pavement.

  13. posted by Sara on

    Great post, we are just as excited about spring and being back in our backyards!

  14. posted by Jill on

    I also recommend renting a chipper or calling a chipping service rather than buying a chipper. These are dangerous, cantankerous machines and can become clutter in one’s shed or garage.

    I love the idea of a garden clean-up swap. I think I will propose that to my neighbor. Of course, I have _way_ more yard than she does, so I will have to sweeten the deal for her somehow.

  15. posted by Dianne on

    we live in the south and have an acre on the lake. Lots of trees and lots of beds and live on a corner. I would like to have all done in one weekend but there is just too much. So, I have been doing in section. Mostly the front gets done and then we do the back/side in sections. We do not have a street and must bag but special collectors come by once a week for that and branches and twigs. Usually lots comes back but our last two winters have been harsher and have lost lots. I have decided that I am replacing with evergreens or perinnials = nothing like getting all done and then being outside to enjoy it! Also been decluttering my pots! If it did not come back, I am not replacing but instead cleaning out and stacking! In the hot summer it is too much to water.

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