Hooray! The weather is (slowly) improving! Leaves are returning to the trees, flowers are blooming everywhere and lambs are skipping around in fields doing that cute little waggle thing with their tails. If you’re fortunate enough to have a garden, now is the time to start tidying up after winter and making improvements so that you can enjoy it this summer.
Whether you love gardening and can’t wait to get back out there, or just need to do enough with your garden so the neighbours don’t complain to the council, here are our tips on how to prepare your garden for summer.
1. Check your stored tools and equipment for damage
If you’ve got a garden, you’ve probably got a shed or storage box full of tools and equipment such as:
- A lawnmower
- An Edging tool or strimmer
- Hedge trimmers
- A Spade
- A Garden fork
- A Hard-bristle brush
- A Hoe
- Hand tools such as trowel and hand fork
- A pair of secateurs
In an ideal world, when you put all of those things away last year, you cleaned them properly and dried them thoroughly. Did you do that, though? No..? To be fair, the British weather is so unpredictable that we often don’t really know when we’ll be using the lawnmower/secateurs etc for the last time before winter. Often, we assume we’ll have time for another mow or another afternoon of weeding before the rain becomes incessant. Sadly, that’s often not the case!
Even if you did manage to clear off all the dirt and give everything a good dry (and coated mechanical tools with oil, to prevent rust), your wooden shed is unlikely to have been entirely protected against the elements. Check all of your equipment for signs of rust. Apply WD-40 to anything with moving parts to prevent things jamming and burning out, and clean any metal parts with a wire brush or wire wool and soapy water. Dry everything thoroughly before your first use.
2. Check and organise your other equipment
Check that you’ve got enough weedkiller, slug/snail barrier materials, lawn feeder and plant food. If you haven’t already, organise all of those tubs and bottles in a storage box with a lid so that everything is kept together and doesn’t get knocked over or spilled.
Alternatively, fix caddies to the inside of your shed door and use them to store smaller items - unlike flat shelves, caddies have raised edges so everything will stay in place even when the doors open and close.
3. Watch out for pests
Funnily enough, ants and other creatures don’t distinguish between soil in your garden and a bag of compost in your shed. Neither do mining bees - have you heard of those? Bees. That. Hide. In. Soil. They don’t like being disturbed any more than you like being stung. If you’ve stored bags of topsoil or compost in your shed over winter, be very careful when using them to pot new plants or top up borders in the spring.
4. Check your garden hose
Finding that your hosepipe has a leak is really annoying. Over winter, hosepipes can get brittle and holes can easily appear. Straighten your hose out along the length of the garden and turn the water on. If any telltale miniature fountains appear, consider whether you can repair the hose by cutting out the damaged section and rejoining the ends with a connector, rather than replacing the whole hose.
5. Dig out the barbecue
Do you remember putting your barbecue in the shed last summer? Are you regretting not cleaning it properly…? If you did give it a good clean and dried it properly, you can sit back smugly and move on to the next tip. If you know that your barbecue is sitting in your shed filled with ash, coated with black bits on the grill and possibly rusting, read on.
Don’t compound matters by ignoring the state of your barbecue until half an hour before you have people round for a barbecue. Go on, tackle it now and then it’s done.
If it’s a traditional barbecue, deal with the ash first. DO NOT use ‘easy to light’ barbecue charcoal on your garden, it’s toxic - throw that stuff away. If you have used traditional, untreated charcoal, feel free to spread it on your garden as it contains potassium and vegetables love that stuff.
If you cheat(!) and use a gas barbecue, clean the burners really well and check the hose/tubes for any signs of damage. Replace any rubber parts that look as though they have been crimped, chewed, punctured or otherwise rotted away.
You can test the tubes for leaks by rubbing soapy water over the tubes and turning on the gas cylinder without turning on the burners - the gas will fill the tubes, and bubbles will appear if there are any holes.
Tackle the grill next - scrub it clean with a wire brush or wire wool, or pop it through the dishwasher after a soak.
Try very hard to remember all that when you get to the end of summer, and consider cleaning your barbecue properly before storing it for next winter. Storing it in a clean, dry environment with pest control (as it would be in a self storage unit) will reduce the likelihood of any damage to your gas hoses.
6. Uncover your garden furniture
Garden furniture (especially the white, plastic kind) needs to be kept covered and raised off the ground over winter or else it will turn green/grey and become brittle. Rattan furniture has a tendency to snap or break if left exposed to cold temperatures and damp conditions. Covering everything with a tarp and raising your furniture off the ground using bricks ought to be enough to keep them clean and in one piece.
Once you’ve taken the tarp off, give everything a clean with soapy water and a scrubbing brush. A power-washer might be necessary to remove discolouration or algae, but take care with rattan or wicker items not to apply too much pressure with the water.
7. Tackle the grass
As well as giving the lawn its first mow of the season, check your borders and containers for grass in unwanted places. Grass mats together, making it impossible for seedlings and bulbs to grow through. A hand fork, knee pads and lots of patience is required for this task. If you don’t want anything to grow back in the areas you’ve just treated (e.g. around shrubs or plants), lay some membrane and cover with bark or decorative stones to prevent grass regrowth.
8. Assess planting needs
Unfortunately, not all plants survive the winter. If you’ve lost shrubs or other plants to the frost or pests, make a note of the locations (whether in partial or full sun, for instance) and how large an area needs to be filled before you head to the garden centre to buy replacements.
9. Consider using self storage
When the summer ends and we start heading into autumn/winter, consider whether some or all of your tools and equipment might be safer and last longer if they’re kept in an indoor self storage unit
, protected against the elements and pests. It could greatly reduce the amount of prep work you need to do this time next year!
Everything could fit nicely into a unit and be kept out of the way until next spring. Your garden furniture would also benefit from being kept indoors! Using a self storage unit would reduce the amount of time you have to spend getting your gardening tools, furniture and equipment ready for next spring.
For now, once you’ve done your prep work, your garden will be ready for you to start enjoying. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the sun will be warm enough to enjoy but not hot enough to make us grumpy.