Will March bring snow to our region, or cherry blossoms that bloom ahead of schedule? The ever unpredictable third month offers something different, but this year, northern Virginia homeowners are rejoicing in the pleasant temperatures, the renewing rains. They’re removing burlap from trees and shrubs shrouded from winter’s cold; pruning branches to make room for new growth; cutting back spent perennials, and pulling up old annuals; and perhaps most exciting of all: beginning to plan their big spring landscaping projects.
But first — before the garden can be laid in, and before the plans for that new flagstone patio can be drawn up, there’s cleanup work to be done.
Snow and wind (and especially a good strong blizzard) can do a number on tree and shrub branches. Now that the weather has cleared, and for good, prune those that are dead or damaged back to live stems. Use a handsaw for anything larger than a half-inch in diameter, and hand pruners instead of electric shears to shape hedges. (A note: summer-flowering shrubs can be pruned before buds appear, but forsythia and other such spring bloomers should not be pruned until they flower.)
Grab the rake and rid the garden of fallen leaves and other dead foliage that can smother plans and foster disease. Pull up any spent annuals, and remove existing mulch to begin prepping the beds for fertilizer and spring planting.
Those leaves and last year’s mulch, don’t just throw all that away. Compost it! It’s easy to do with a three-foot square of wire fence or even a sturdy plastic bin. Leaves and chip branches larger than a half-inch in diameter should be shredded to accelerate decomposition. Keep the pile moist; aerate every couple of weeks; and voila: ready made fertilizer. Just don’t add any early spring weeds that have gone to seed, because they might not decompose, but sprout instead.
Gravel… travels. Rake any that’s escaped back into walkways and patios, and consider ordering more to fill any large gaps. Refill joints between flagstones by sweeping in new sand or stone dust; water with a hose to set it, then repeat. And then break out the pressure washer to rid the surfaces of slippery algae spots or leaf stains.
Now, with a yard free of mess and debris: