April in New England is fickle. Freezing rain, snow squalls, wind storms and heat waves are just a few of the surprises Mother Nature has in store for us. From branches crushed by the weight of icicles, to green buds ready to pop up through the Earth, being a plant is confusing. Truthfully, humans don’t really know what to do either. Should I turn the heat on? Sleep in? Hit the slopes? Go for a jog? We have sneakers, rain boots and flip flops all ready to go at a moment’s notice. With the onslaught of pseudo-spring, and sports season in full effect, finding time to visit the gym and do yard work and is a struggle. When you are low on inspiration, remember April is National Garden Month, and bathing suit season is just around the corner.
Before you start any outside project, check the weather. This may seem obvious, but inclement weather can seriously put a damper on your outdoor ventures. Temperature and moisture effect drying of paints, plant and lawn treatments, as well as successful aeration and proper seeding. If weather is an issue, see if there is any part of your project that can be completed in your garage or basement. If not, use the time indoors refining your plan of attack. Don’t forget to take an inventory of what supplies you have vs. what you need. More times than not, I end up visiting Lowe;s and Home Depot multiple times in one day (and embarrassingly have the same check-out person). Make sure you are dressed appropriately for your mission. We have all suffered from an insect bite, poison ivy or the annoying prickle bush scrape that goes right through our clothes and simultaneously kills our motivation. To maximize your outdoor workout session, keep your temperature regulated and your body hydrated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gardening is compared to “moderate cardiovascular exercise.” Gardening 30 to 45 minutes a day can burn 150 to 300 calories. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen by standing and watering the flowers. You can get in a workout weeding, digging, hoeing, raking and planting.
Here are three tips for laissez-faire gardeners like myself.
Tip 1: Carefully remove the protective burlap from your shrubs. LOL. That was clearly a joke. Every year I intend on protecting my precious shrubs, and every year the snow comes before I do it. However, the burlap roll does come in handy for crafting. I used last year’s burlap to cover the bottom of the hanging plants and cinched with decorative ribbon for my mom’s Mother’s Day gift.
Tip 1 (Take two): Prune all the dead branches to make room for the new growth. This is actually a great workout and can burn some serious calories. I am sure there is a set of “best practices,” but I like to pretend I’m Edward Scissorhands and snip away. Pro tip: Be careful that you don’t over-prune one side. Every so often, take several steps back to check for symmetry. This is also the time where I remove the unnecessary lower branches on my larger shrubs (my attempt to keep my very large and overgrown rhododendron in check). Cut back perennials, and dig up old annuals you missed/didn’t get around to last fall. Finally, scan your lawn for anything else that needs some TLC. “April is a good time to take stock of your yard and see if it’s time to thin out crowded beds and do some transplanting to fill in bare spots,” says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook.
Tip 2: I know, I know. Deja vu. One of the travesties of living in New Hampshire. Leaves. Even if you cleaned up leaves in the fall, there are some trees with a sense of humor that deposit leaves on the ground during the winter and sometimes into spring.
Aiming for perfection in this area will get you nowhere (in this instance, mediocrity is preferred). According to the Farmer’s Almanac, a little leaf litter helps our pollinators and wildlife survive the winter. Make sure you don’t leave huge piles of leaves on your lawn, especially if they are wet. The moisture from the leaves is the perfect recipe for mold. Wait until temperatures are in the high 40s or 50s, and don’t rake when the ground is wet. If you have a compost pile (or want to start one), add those leaves to the pile. Pro tip: If you create footprints when you walk on your lawn, there is still too much moisture. Rake when it is dry and the grass is still brown; raking too late may harm healthy roots.
Tip 3: Don’t give up. Outdoor clean-up and new projects can (and typically will) be exhausting. Remember that completing tasks takes time, money and a positive attitude. When your body is being physically taxed, it is easy to call it quits. Approach your projects the same as you would an organized fitness routine. You wouldn’t leave in the middle of a workout because it was too hard. You would take a short break, catch your breath, take a drink of water and get back to work. Apply these same principles to your DIY yard undertakings. This mindset will help to increase the length of your yard work. The longer you are outside, the better your muscular strength, mobility and flexibility will be.
Now if only we could prune the human body of excess weight as easy as we can trim off dead foliage…
(Crystal Reynolds is an owner of 43 Degrees North Athletic Club.)