The optimism that stirs the soul of every gardener each spring initiates an often contagious frenzy of activity. As we relish extended hours of welcome sunlight, the first sightings of robins and the hopeful swell of buds on flowering shrubs, an almost primal energy is ignited. Unfortunately, the boost of energy, released by the shade of green unique to spring, often leads to an overzealousness while tackling the tasks of early spring in the garden.
Gardening is a full body workout that requires the same type of preparation as any endurance exercise: proper clothing and footwear, warming up, pacing yourself, changing activities to avoid strain, rest periods and a cooling down period too. This year, use the following checklist to address your spring gardening tasks … and plan to avoid pain and the risk of injury by preparing yourself physically using the following tips.
Limber Up with Gardeners Stretches
Gardening takes you through a full body range of movements that, on average, will burn close to 300 calories per hour. It slows down bone loss and improves strength and balance as well as keeping your knees flexible. Typically impacted areas included your back, shoulders, neck, hips and feet. To reduce muscle strain, fatigue and the potential for injury, be sure to do some warm up stretches before each session of gardening.
Like any athlete, it is best to sport the appropriate protective gear. Instead of your beat up runners, wear supportive shoes with a good arch. Be sure to wear a hat, gloves and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun even in early spring. Long sleeves and pants protect your skin from thistles, thorns and wayward branches.
Learning to garden on one knee instead of both knees will help reduce the strain on your lower back. Never ever turn as you lift. Better still, use a wheelbarrow, cart or wagon. Save your back by dragging bags of soil or mulch on a small tarp. Be sure to break up your day by alternating your activities between raking, pruning and weeding every 20 minutes. Pace yourself and don’t forget to give your body a good stretch at the end of your gardening day as well.
Spring Gardening Tasks
• Groom your tools, remove the rust, clean and sharpen your pruners.
• Gradually push aside winter mulch from around the base of plants to expose the crowns of the perennials to light. Clean up winter debris, stalks and leaves. Perennial stems left over winter should be cut back within a few inches of the ground before the new growth starts.
• In early spring, rake, aerate, and fertilize grass. Fertilize it with an organic-based slow release fertilizer.
• April is also a good month for top-dressing your beds and borders. Two inches of triple mix is adequate especially if you allow the top dressing to sit for one month prior to planting to adequately amend your soil.
• Cultivate and aerate the soil around base of shrubs and plants. Prune dead/damaged branches, tidy hedges and vines
• Pull out weeds as soon as they start to appear. Early intensive weeding, especially after a rain, will save hours of work later in the season.
• Water your trees especially if there is an April drought.
• Clean your pots and containers. Soak them for 30 minutes in a soil of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water to remove contaminants from last year
• Kill weeds and grass seedlings between paving stones and interlock with boiling, salted water or watered down pickling vinegar.
Kate Seaver is an avid gardener and owner of Kate’s Garden in Markham.