Before gardening fun, get the yard in shape

Home Work

April 25, 1999|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

FOR THE PAST two summers, Karol's back yard was a construction site. There were sawhorses instead of lawn chairs and heaps of sawdust instead of mounds of flowers while workers finished her kitchen renovation.

Now that spring is here, plants that made it through the construction and the winter are coming up -- and some weeds that took over while the yard was neglected are also springing up vigorously. Now is the time to do something about the mess.

When Adam and his crew were finishing the siding on the north side of the house, they ripped out a lot of ivy and other foliage that was growing up the foundation. Adam said he thought the vines were damaging the house -- creating entry points for pests like mice and spiders and possibly contributing to water getting into the basement. He recommended tearing out the rest of the foundation foliage along that side.

Winter storms can also contribute to foundation problems, and spring is the time to check for low places, holes and dead plants and to make sure the grading slopes properly away from the house. Such simple work can often eliminate basement water problems.

Last summer's dry weather in the mid-Atlantic area left a lot of lawns and shrubbery in sad shape. The damage should be showing up about now, in bare spots, patches of weeds and dead plantings. Sawdust apparently is deadly to grass, and the place in Karol's lawn where the saw table sat is bare dirt. Her yard backs to a ravine, so there's always a danger of erosion. It's a question how well grass seed will do, but something needs to be growing there.

Honeysuckle and some sort of weed-vine took over the raised beds she used for vegetables and herbs, so that's another major task that needs to be taken care of early.

And then she can think about the fun stuff -- what sort of shrubs and flowers to plant. Garden centers are such a temptation this time of year, with riots of bloom and delicate foliage. But the yard needs to be gotten in shape before new planting begins.

Here are some other yard-type things to think about:

Weeds are often the first thing to emerge on the lawn. If they're up already, it's a bit late to use a pre-emergent type of weed killer. It may get some of them, but weed-and-feed fertilizers and weed killers will probably work best at this point.

Now is the perfect time for planting -- that sounds elementary, but some of us spend so much time admiring the spring weather that we forget to plant. But there's little likelihood of a frost, so it's time to start looking for starter tomatoes and other vegetables.

Trees and shrubs are best trimmed and planted before they start to bloom. Give them plenty of water, if it doesn't rain every day, and most will take hold quickly.

When you're planting grass, scratch up the soil with a rake to allow the seed to penetrate. Spread the seed evenly and cover it with straw. The straw will keep the seed moist, which will help it to germinate faster. It will also help keep it from washing away. When the grass is tall enough to cut, the straw will get mulched in the mower and eventually deteriorate to nothing.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and past president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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