Growing Seasons

An eye-catching yard requires year-round work and planning.

Landscaping and gardening are year-round endeavors. That means four seasons worth of planning, planting, mulching, trimming, watering, pruning and, mostly, enjoying your outdoor space. And, no, you don't get to hibernate all winter just because you live in Cleveland.

Each season has its own to-do list, dictated by the calendar, Mother Nature and your own ambition. The Great Big Home and Garden Expo, Feb. 5-13 at the I-X Center, is a resource for all your planning and gardening endeavors with its wealth of lush landscapes and hands-on teachers. With the help of show participants, we've put together a quick primer on tending to your landscaping at any time of year.

Winter: planning stage

Just because snow is covering the frozen earth doesn't mean you should forget about your gardening desires. In fact, now is the best time for a critical evaluation — a time to make plans and decide on additions, deletions and relocations.

"Winter is a great time for planning your budget, concept and design," says Cheri Chapman, a designer with Landstyles Inc., which is featuring a New England coastal garden at the expo. "Look outside and see if you have any color. Notice what you're looking at now versus what you'd like to be looking at, and reflect on what you did and didn't like about last year's landscape."

Then she suggests putting pen to paper, drawing a diagram, making lists and doing research.

"Whether you do it on your own with a basic CAD program or hire a professional, you absolutely must put together a working blueprint," says Mike Walters, vice president and co-owner with Tim Connelly of the Connelly Landscape Co., which is showcasing a garden with a cobblestone trail leading to an outdoor bar and fire pit.

Once your plan is in place, you can sit back and wait for the right conditions to put your plan into action.

Spring: Prep Work

In some ways, spring is the busiest season for gardening. It is the time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the hard tasks of pruning, tilling soil, shaping and mulching beds, cleaning away last year's debris, and fertilizing. Spring cleanup should be done in a two-month window sometime between early March and early May, says Walters.

"The time frame is dictated by weather conditions, not by the calendar," he says. "Wait for the ground to be soft and the snow to be gone, with daytime temperatures getting into the 40s and 50s."

Summer: Planting and Maintenance

Summer is when your plans come to fruition. But you won't want to begin planting anything until after Memorial Day.

"You can think about exactly which plants you want to purchase," Walters says. "But don't even think of putting anything into the ground until after the holiday. Any earlier, and you're flirting with the disaster of late frost."

Prepare and plant the annual beds by turning over and tilling existing soil. Then mix in organic matter like peat moss or decomposed leaves, and you're ready to go.

Once you have all your plantings in the ground, water your plants a lot. "Between June and September, you must be vigilant about watering," Walters says. "Lack of water is probably the largest reason plant materials aren't thriving."

Fall: Cleanup Time

Fall means more than raking leaves and putting that final cut on the lawn.

You'll also have to trim perennials all the way to the ground so they will grow in nicely next year, recommends Chapman. The only exception is to leave up grasses or plants that could add interest over the winter. "Sometimes snow can pile up onto leftover grass plants and add a nice aesthetic to your landscape," she says. "But if you do leave these, you must trim them down early next spring."

A good fall cleanup also includes removing all leaves from the lawn and flower beds and pruning small trees and bushes.

Fall is a great time for pruning because "with the leaves gone you can really see the shrubs' shape and structure," Chapman says.

She also reminds us that fall is the time to get bulbs into the ground. "In an ideal world, they would come up again and again. But actually, critters will eat them, so you need to supplement every year."

At The Show

The Great Big Home and Garden Show happens at just the right time to inspire your winter planning. But it's also close enough to spring so you don't lose momentum before implementing all your great new ideas. So visit the show with a critical eye and a shopper's attitude. Bring a notebook and pen — jot down ideas you like, experts you'd like to contact again and names of all those gorgeous plants you want to incorporate into your own landscape design.

This year, movies are the inspiration for the gardens on display. Go see the clever ways landscapers interpret their chosen films, and take away some ideas to create a little drama in your own yard.

Some of the films chosen as inspiration include The Natural, Jaws, Edward Scissorhands, The Matrix and Happy Gilmore.

You'll also find ideas for interesting ways to use your backyard space — maybe to raise chickens (inspired by the movie The Egg and I) or to host a wedding (inspired by Father of the Bride).

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