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Time for garden care, from weeding to compost

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Spring brings green back into nature’s palette. If this is the year you’ve been working to create the garden you’ve always wanted, plan ahead for the preparation work that makes the difference between “Hey, look at that beautiful yard!” and “Uh, nice weeds you’ve got there.”

Clean up when it warms up

You want to clear away old mulch, rake up leftover leaves, and cut away dead growth from last year’s plants, but don’t rush into things. Many insect good guys—pollinators, butterflies, and other beneficial bugs—spend the winter in diapause, the equivalent of hibernation. They inhabit hollow stems and leaf piles till temperatures reach and stay in the 50s. Mulch can stop some of them from digging out of their soil burrows. Tidy up too soon, and you deprive these garden friends of their hideaways, so wait for sustained warmth and be mindful of what you’re doing. And if you see a cocoon or chrysalis hanging from a branch, leave it to hatch.

Be kind to your soil

Your garden grows only as well as the health of its supporting soil. If you’re new to gardening, or gardening in a new location, test your soil to find out what kind of nutrition it needs for good growth. Contact a local testing laboratory or extension office for details on how to submit representative samples for analysis.

With or without a soil test, fertilize before you plant. The product you use will list a series of three numbers on its packaging, corresponding to the percentages of three main elements—nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash—that soil needs for productive planting. The fertilizers designed for fast-starting growth contain more phosphorus than those meant for general use.

Compost your own mulch

If you’ve steered clear of composting because you didn’t want to deal with animal manure, you can skip the poop and go straight to yard and household waste. Grass clippings, leaves, plant trimmings, and vegetable scraps from your kitchen all make great compost material. You may need to purchase mulch to cover large areas, but if you get a good start on a compost heap, you can produce your own and minimize the expense.

In many areas, local laws forbid burning or adding leaves and grass clippings to trash destined for landfills. When you buy a cut Christmas tree, you also face limits on how you can dispose of it after the holidays end. Up to 20% of landfill debris comes from yard waste, so adding these materials to your compost heap not only gives you valuable nutrition for your garden: It also helps the overall environment.

Discourage weeds efficiently

If you think the best way to rid your yard and garden of weeds is to dig them up and toss them in your compost heap, you’re wrong on two counts. Examine your soil under a magnifying glass, and you’ll quickly see that weed seeds live everywhere. To germinate, they need light—and when you dig, dig, dig, you give them a chance to erupt. If you add weeds to your compost, guess what you’re likely to get: weedy compost. Heat treatment can zap the weeds, but you’ll need to manage your compost carefully to achieve good results.

Good tools make for great results

Get on track with seasonal maintenance and keep ahead of weedy pests. For best results, arm yourself with the right tools so you can save time and effort. The more you accomplish now, the less you’ll have to do later. After all, it’s easier to vanquish weeds when they’re little than to clear out an entire yard once they’ve taken over.

To give weeds the old heave-ho, stop them from feeding and they may die on their own. Slice through their roots with a sharp narrow blade, and you’ll cut off their food supply while you chop down your weeding time.

Work smarter, get greener

Rather than postpone your garden maintenance and try to work through all of it in a weekend marathon, tackle it a bit at a time. After all, the weeds didn’t grow in a day, and your garden deserves the kind of loving attention you can give it when you plan your progress for productivity.

How’s your garden looking? We want to see! Post photos and tag them #HancockHealthChallenge!

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