A touch of al fresco early-spring cleaning and maintenance helps to create a flourishing, diverse slice of nature in your backyard.
In early spring, new growth is building and budding both in stems and underground, ready to create a dazzling display in the coming weeks. But this means weeds are poised for action too! Before the warmer temperatures set in, dig out anything unhelpful that is threatening to establish itself, particularly around young native trees and shrubs. It’s not the most fun gardening job but know that doing it now will save you a bigger job later on, and ensure that all the good growing juices get to the plants that need them.
Under that dirt is a complex web of life that needs food to function and support healthy growth above ground. After you’ve cleared the weeds, feed the soil with organic matter to help with the big-time plant growth to come. Dig some compost, bokashi juice, worm castings, liquid seaweed or leaf mould into the soil to boost its nutrient value and help new plant growth come in strong.
A good layer of mulch not only suppresses weed growth but adds valuable nutrients into the soil as it breaks down. For native trees and shrubs, you can use cardboard, layers of newspaper, carpet squares or old wool blankets to make a great protective barrier against weeds, then layer wood chips, bark or wet straw on top. Remember to keep the mulch away from stems though.
In the vege garden, pea straw is an old favourite for a reason: it’s cheap and readily available. Remember it’s simply dried pea shoots though so why not grow your own ‘chop and drop’ mulch? Mustard, broad beans or peas are all excellent fast-growing cover crops. Sow thickly and once they get to 10 - 20 cm, chop them at the stem and sow seedlings straight into the mulch. It’s great for the soil and keeps weeds at bay naturally.
To have your perennial shrubs like rosemary and sage looking bushy and blossomy, prune off last season's deadwood. Removing any dead branches will allow them to concentrate all their energy on growth. Give hedges a trim too and they will bush out nicely. Lastly, add a bit of compost or a natural fertiliser around the bases and watch them take off in the coming weeks and months.
A note on fruit trees: If you’re going to copper spray, perhaps to deal with some black spot or leaf curl you spotted last season, do it before bud burst and again after flowering. Always spray late on a still evening to avoid harming bees.
Speaking of bees, a garden buzzing with biodiversity tends to be a healthy one. Consider sowing flower seeds into the cracks and crevices around the garden to signal the pollinators. There are tons of species that are fast-growing and pretty while also providing sustenance for bees to do that good pollination work. Nectar or pollen rich flowers like poppies, phacelia, yarrow, wallflower, bergamot and sweet William are excellent attractants for our pollinating friends.
Spring is also a great time to get native plants into the ground. Not sure what to plant? We’ve put together a list of the best native plants for feeding native birds.
Birds are building nests and scouring for food sources but remember that spring is also the breeding season for rats, stoats and hedgehogs. To give native birds an upper hand as their chicks start to hatch, make sure your traps are clean, functioning and freshly baited. If you’re looking to set up a trapline on your property, check out the range available at Predator Free NZ.
Don’t forget to also give your bird feeders and baths a thorough clean as part of your spring regime: how to (properly) clean a bird feeder and why it’s so very important you do.
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