Every spring, my next-door neighbour is the first one to prune, rake and clean up his yard of all the leaves, branches and other rubbish that is uncovered when the snow melts.

You can imagine his dismay every year when he looks at our yard, which tends to be neglected until we can no longer ignore the hints from those who live around us.

Well, after I’d received several subtle and not-so-subtle reminders, I decided to get to work, and was soon joined by my neighbour, who very graciously decided to help me start my spring yard and garden cleanup. I thanked him and we parted on the understanding that I would soon tackle the back yard, which I haven’t done yet but intend to … soon.

While I may have shortcomings in the area of garden and yard maintenance, I certainly like to make lists, and after some thought, here is the cleanup list that I hope will help me accomplish spring yard cleanup in a timely fashion.

Most people start thinking about yard cleanup when they notice shoots from snow-drops or crocuses poking out of the soil. When this happens, loosen and remove the mulch from around the shoots. Don’t allow them to be smothered under that compacted layer of leaves and dead plant material that has accumulated over the winter.

But don’t take the whole layer off just yet. Keep the unpredictable weather conditions of early spring in mind. Wait until you are reasonably sure there will be no more snows or freezing temperatures. These early spring plants will need some protection when the departing season blows its last, desperate icy breaths.

In the meantime, you can clean the rest of the garden and yard of detritus, leaves, branches, and any trash that has blown in. Cut back perennials like Rudbeckia or Sedum or any ornamental grasses that you may have left standing over the winter.

When the weather is more consistently warm, you may remove all leafy waste from around the plants. If your soil is poor, work compost or an organic fertilizer into the soil before you plant annuals, and around perennials after they have begun to sprout and are 2 to 3 inches tall.

Once the soil is exposed, spread organic mulch such as bark, wood chips or shredded leaves around perennials and over annual beds to discourage weed growth and keep soil temperature and humidity more agreeable when the sun starts to bake exposed soil. Whatever you use, make sure water can percolate through.

If you have grass, give it a good deep raking as soon as it starts to turns green. This stimulates growth by removing thatch, or dead grass from the last season.

For shrubs and bushes that bloom in summer or fall, you may prune them in late winter or early spring to take off dead limbs, rejuvenate the plant and to maintain a pleasing shape. To avoid pruning off blooms of spring-blooming shrubs that flower from last year’s growth, prune only when the blooms begin to die off.

Just think — by next year, you’ll have the spring yard cleanup routine down to an art, no doubt to the astonishment of your friends and neighbours.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design; sputz@arrestingdesign.com.

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