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By Alan J. Heavens

RISMEDIA, April 2, 2008-(MCT)-This pronouncement may be coming too early in spring, but I think we’ve made it through another winter virtually unscathed. I say too early because winter weather can return even in May.

Still, I plead here for you to pay some attention to spring maintenance chores before the weather gets too warm. These fall into three categories: time savers, entertaining, and upkeep/beautification.

A time saver: Install an automatic watering system. This can be as complicated as putting in an underground sprinkler system, or as simple as adding a timer to the outdoor spigot, then hooking up a hose and an above-ground sprinkler.

There are too many variables involved in an underground system to be covered here. You might want to hire a professional to do that job anyway, since it involves a lot of digging and measuring.

Above-ground drip-irrigation systems, however, are easier and efficient, and are especially good for vegetable gardens that will need to be watered during long stretches of summer vacation.

Need a garden to water? Now’s the time to start one. Pick a sunny spot or, if you’re short on sun, choose plants that thrive in full or partial shade.

Need borders? Try cedar, brick, Belgian block or stone. A large stone or two, surrounded by small plants, adds a nice accent.

So does a fence or trellis. You may want to install factory-made varieties or build either from scratch.

Use plenty of mulch in the garden to keep down weeds and hold in moisture. Red mulch is growing more popular, but pine bark is still high in the repertoire. Try to find mulch that is relatively insect-free, especially if the garden is close to outdoor areas used regularly for entertaining.

Get the lawn in shape before the summer heat. You are running up against the deadline for reseeding, since it takes almost two weeks for many types of grass seed to germinate. Cool-season turf grasses work best in areas like Philadelphia. They grow well in spring and fall, becoming semi-dormant in hot, dry summer weather.

These are, in order of preference: Kentucky bluegrass, rough bluegrass, perennial ryegrasses, fine fescues, tall fescues, and bent grasses. Kentucky bluegrass is the premium lawn grass for the mid-Atlantic region. It’s highly resistant to disease, but also high-maintenance.

Speaking of maintenance, if you haven’t tuned your mower yet, do it now. Change the oil, sharpen or replace the blade, and replace the spark plug. You also might want to switch to an electric or battery-operated mower.

If you’re planning a lot of summer entertaining, it’s time to clean and seal the deck. Choose a cloudy day, so that whatever cleaner you use will have time to work before it evaporates.

Wear gloves and a mask, and cover any foliage to protect it from splashes. Do any repairs or replace loose or popped fasteners before you start cleaning. Tighten bolts.

Try to pick two rain-free days to seal the deck. Follow the manufacturer’s directions, but you’ll probably need 24 hours of drying time between coats. Some sealers contain paraffin; too much can make a surface slippery, so apply even, thin coats.

If you have a lot of painting to do but conditions are not right, it may be an ideal time for prepping-scraping, sanding, repairing and caulking. When that good day comes along, you’ll be ready.

Finally, this might be a good time to put a little more light on the subject. Low-voltage lighting is easy to install, whether on a deck or below-ground. It also uses little energy.
If you prefer no-cost energy, try solar-powered lights. No wiring is involved, and, depending on the location of the lights, they will even operate in winter.

© 2008, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.