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Spring Cleaning – Outside Edition

Spring cleaning. Some of us look forward to this annual ritual. Others, not so much. However you choose to look at it, this annual tidying up – and wiping down – of our homes is not only good for our physical health, it’s also a good way to take care of our mental health. Plus, a good cleaning makes a space ready for whatever comes its way.

As we begin to open those windows (finally!), clean out those closets, dust the crevices and donate unwanted things we’ve accumulated over the winter months, don’t forget – your yard needs love too.

A checklist for spring cleaning the inside of our homes can be as easy as a Pinterest search. It’s not as easy, however, to find a simple list of ways to tidy up the outside spaces this time of year.

But good news! The outside is actually much simpler – and comes with a much shorter checklist. All you really need to do is follow a few key steps below to get your garden ready to welcome you in the seasons ahead.

The six steps to preparing your yard for spring include:  

  1. Aerate
  2. Turn on the irrigation system (calling in the pros, if needed)
  3. Compost/top dress
  4. Wake and rake, baby!
  5. Fertilizing (if needed) and pruning
  6. Add water!


  • Deep tine aeration may be a good option for yards that have more clay because it opens up pore space for air and water penetration.
  • Top dress with clean topsoil or organic mix to help break up the clay.
  • Make sure to mark your irrigation heads and lines and avoid visible tree roots.
  • Use limited aeration within a tree’s dripline or use a radial pattern out from the trunk, staying 1’ for every 1” diameter out from the trunk.

Schedule irrigation turn-on.

Your irrigation system has been in hibernation. It’s been waiting to emerge and bring signs of life back to what’s sat dormant all season. To conserve water and ensure your plantings receive the best treatment, it’s a good idea to call in the pros. A little investment now can save time, money and resources later on.

Compost/top dress

Spring is also a great time to show your plants some love through composting. Compost adds nutrients and organic material into the soil, something that our high elevation climate quickly breaks down. Organic material also helps break up clay and lightens soil for new roots to push through.

  • Top dress woody plants and perennials by spreading up to an inch of compost on top of the soil and gently scratching it in with a rake or hand tool.
  • Top dress once all snow is gone, leaves are budding or just opened, and new growth is just emerging for perennials.
  • Compost is also great for vegetable gardens and can be more fully dug in.
    Look for an organic product to avoid build-up of chemicals.
  • On perennial beds, compost can be used instead of mulch making it much easier to spread.
  • Compost may not be needed every year. The only way to know for sure is to get your soil tested. The test will include a recommendation for additional organic material if needed.

For more information about soil amendments; visit  

Wake & rake!

Even if you participated in our fall composting campaign, there’s a good chance your neighbors’ leaves made their way into your yard over the winter. Regardless of how they got there, it’s time to say goodbye. A good raking of what remains can clear the way for perennials to pop through when the time is just right. Raking leaves provides some additional benefits other than a “clean look:”

  • Raking action will help break down pieces incorporating into the much-needed organic matter for soil health.
  • Removes possible (re)contamination of new emerging leaves.
  • Provides better airflow to the base of plants and the soil.
  • Allows turf areas to dry out, preventing some diseases from developing. If possible, wait for the native bee emergence before removing leaves, dead plant stalks/branches or adding mulch.

Fertilizing and Pruning

  • Don’t just add fertilizer, every lawn is slightly different.
    • Get a soil test so you are only adding what is needed for best vegetation growth and not wasting hard-earned dollars or adding chemicals that will go unused and leach into the environment.
  • Check that your tools are ready, in safe working order and clean and sharp.
  • This is your last opportunity for branch pruning on elms and fruit trees. Do it before bud break to prevent spreading disease.
  • When pruning fruit trees that may have disease, make sure to clean pruning tools the right way: Wipe the cutting surface thoroughly between each cut with disinfectant or rubbing alcohol. Wearing gloves is a good idea to avoid cutting yourself.
  • Check clearance and prune branches over street/alley (13.5’) and sidewalks (6.5’).
  • Before shearing or pruning evergreens, look for bird nesting activity so you don’t scare birds away.
  • Avoid pruning thin bark trees such as maples, as sap oozing, sometimes referred to as “bleeding,” can stain bark or look unsightly. If your tree is exhibiting signs of oozing, contact an arborist as it could be a sign of insect or disease activity.


  • Outdoor watering rules are in effect May 1 to Oct. 1. Please remember to:
    • Water during cooler times of the day — lawn watering is NOT allowed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
    • Water no more than three days per week.
    • Do not allow water to pool in gutters, streets and alleys.
    • Do not waste water by letting it spray on concrete and asphalt.
    • Repair leaking sprinkler systems within 10 days.
    • Do not irrigate while it is raining or during high winds.
    • Use a hose nozzle with a shut-off valve when washing your car.
    • Learn about Denver’s rules for watering. 

What’s next in 2023?

This year, we will continue to plant more trees and provide resources to residents on how we can all take care of our urban canopy.

We also want to help you plant a tree! If you have room in the public right-of-way adjacent to your property, you may be eligible to have a free tree planted for you by Denver’s office of the City Forester. It’s easy to apply online.

Let’s keep working together in 2023 to protect our urban canopy and improve the climate for generations to come. For more information about any of these programs, email or call Denver’s Office of the City Forester at 720-913-0651.