Pruning: If you haven’t pruned your plants yet, early spring April is your last chance for a hard prune. Light shaping is fine until early fall, but now’s the time to trim down the bushes that have lost their shape, or need new growth to bloom this year. For blooming plants, you want to encourage new growth without cutting off this season’s buds, so it’s always good to look up when it’s safe to give them a trim. For example, bushes like hydrangeas can confuse even experienced gardeners. Limelights only bloom on new wood, and need a trim in late winter or early Spring; Oakleafs need pruning in late fall or early winter, and mop heads generally want to be left alone beyond trimming off last year’s dead flowers. The general rule is that if it blooms in the spring, trim it in the winter.
Pre-emergence: I don’t spend much time on my lawn, but I like it to look nice. The best tip for having a healthy, low-maintenance lawn is to apply pre-emergence herbicide. It keeps weeds out of your yard by preventing seeds from germinating. No weeds means less work for you, and less stress on your lawn. It lasts for 90 days, so an application now and again in July will keep the weeds away all summer, and it will wear off in time to put down grass seed this fall.
Gutters, downspouts, and drainage. Oh my.: Not my favorite chore, but clean your gutters thoroughly before the heavy rains start. If you have oak trees in your area, let the catkins (the dangly pollen-filled bits from hell) fall first. They are notorious for clogging up drainage systems. Noticed some dampness or water in your basement this winter? Now is a good time to extend your downspouts a few feet away from your house, or add some clay-based soil around the foundation so the water drains away. I also advise my clients who live in tropical storm or hurricane zones to pick up a few sections of 10-foot plastic drainage pipe. In the event of a bad storm, it will only take a few minutes to attach them to your downspouts and divert the water away from your foundation. They run around $8 at Lowes or Home Depot, and can be the difference between a flooded basement and a dry one.
Patio furniture cleaning: If your outdoor furniture has seen better days, there’s a quick way to remove dirt, mold, moss and algae. Fill a garden sprayer with two parts warm water to one part bleach, and add a squirt of dishwashing liquid and two tablespoons of tsp (trisodium phosphate). Generously spray on a dry surface, let it sit for five minutes, then wash off with a hose. Repeat if necessary. This formula works great on porches and walls too. TSP is an inexpensive detergent professionals use, and you can pick it up online or in any hardware store. For teak furniture, use three parts warm water to one part laundry detergent with a splash of white vinegar or bleach. Even badly bleached teak will come back to its former brown glory with a few applications, and scrubbing with a soft nylon brush will speed up the process.