The Back Yard
Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Spring clean your garden

By Justin Newcombe

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The arrival of spring means getting into the garden to tidy up after winter and prepare for the new season. But don't forget to get Dad on board, writes Justin Newcombe.

Springtime means tidying up the garden by trimming hedges. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Springtime means tidying up the garden by trimming hedges. Photo / Paul Estcourt

It's the first weekend of spring, and there's a tremendous amount to do in the garden as the weather warms up. What I love most about spring is that everything is new. Trees that were empty masts a week ago are like full green sails navigating the street, fruit trees are showering blossoms as if they're at a wedding day dance, and bold new fronds unfurl proudly from sturdy ponga trunks.

With all this to distract us we shouldn't forget this weekend's other important annual event - Father's Day. This Sunday we'll acknowledge what an indispensable guy he is, and nothing says "you're absolutely indispensable" like a nice, big list of spring gardening jobs.

So don't let the big lug wallow on the sofa thinking up new and improved ways the All Blacks can lose to France in a quarter final of next year's Rugby World Cup. You can either wrap his present in this list, or just pop it in the card.

Tree pruning

This job is best done during winter when the tree is dormant (asleep) but if you're slack like me it wasn't.

You probably don't want to be too brutal during spring because open wounds can weep a lot of sap which the tree expends a lot of energy producing. Use a sharp saw or loppers and don't bother with pruning paste as it can often cause more problems than it solves.

Remove the debris from around the tree, then mulch and compost.

Trimming the hedge

If it's a flowering hedge like a bottlebrush you may want to wait until it has finished, but for box hedges like buxus, give it a light trim. This will encourage the hedge to thicken up. Make sure you banish all the trimmings to the compost bin (best to mix them in).

Remove weeds and plant rubbish

This is an important job because if pathogens (fungi in particular) are going to cause problems, they will probably winter over in the old foliage and detritus under your plants.

Don't throw this material away, however, as it makes a good carbon component for your compost bin.


Add compost or manure and mulch around trees and shrubs. This will help keep the soil warm around the tree, increasing soil activity and ultimately improving the tree's growth and performance.

Prepare new beds

Clear and compost your vege beds ready for spring . If you have green-cropped over winter then dig the crop in, compost and cover with cardboard until you are ready to plant.

As well as this stuff don't forget to turn the compost, mow, repair and reseed the lawn, and do any edging around the lawns and driveway.

Dad may initially put up a bit of resistance, but that's all part of his charm. Just stand firm, because your gift to Dad this year will be the satisfaction of a job well done.

3 of the best: Blokes' crops

These traditional staples are the closest thing to meat in the garden, which is why they're often mentioned in the same sentence.

As it happens, tomatoes are from the same family as the potato and are usually the lightning rod for the competitive male gardener.

These grow in bright flame colours, which says to me they might be hot. So why is it that after a couple of beers two grown men can't just hang out in the garden without seeing who can eat the hottest one ... they should call them sillies.

* Justin Newcombe is a landscape gardener and Life's Back Yard columnist. For more information see

- NZ Herald

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