Best Way to Perform a Spring Cleanup


Best Way to Perform a Spring Cleanup


To help insure that your landscaping gets off to the right start each year, it is recommended that you Perform a Spring Cleanup. There are several parts to a thorough Spring Cleanup, including:  dead branch removal, cleaning leaves and debris from home gutters, cleaning of all leaves and debris in plants and planting beds, dead plants removal, raking and/or dethatching the lawn, and applying a Spring application of lawn fertilizer. Performing this process every year will insure that your landscaping gets off to a great start for the upcoming growing season.

Providing that you already owned the needed tools, this project will require very minimal cost, but a reasonable amount of your time and labor. You could always hire a landscaping service to perform these tasks for you, but where is the fun in that! Come on, roll up your sleeves, put on some safety glasses and gloves, and get one with nature!

Depending on your property, this project may require some or all of the following Tools and Supplies:

  • A-Frame Ladder
  • Extension Ladder
  • Pruners
  • Loppers
  • Chain Saw
  • Pole Trimmer
  • Bamboo or Metal Rake
  • Short Handle Bamboo Rake
  • Garbage Cans or Lawn Bags
  • 5-Gallon Bucket
  • Bungee Cord
  • Mechanics Gloves or Leather Gloves
  • Waterproof Gloves
  • Safety Glasses
  • Blower
  • Extension Cords (or Gasoline for Gas Powered Blower)
  • Dethatcher Rental
  • Pointed Digging Shovel
  • Axe
  • Pick
  • Weed Picker
  • Pruning Sealer Paint
  • Vaseline
  • Ear Protection
  • Head Protection
  • Nylon Cord
  • Lawnmower with Catcher Bag
  • Rotary Fertilizer Spreader
  • Lawn Fertilizer

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About Lawn Fertilizer

Before we get into the Step-by-Step Instructions for your Spring Cleanup, let’s talk about Lawn Fertilizer.

Before purchasing and applying your Lawn Fertilizer, here are a few things that you should know:

When purchasing Lawn Fertilizer, I have usually found that the cheaper stuff actually works better! Hooray! NO need to spend a ton of green to make your lawn look green. However, I am only referring to the Time Release Granular types, NOT the ‘all mineral’ types which release all of the nutrients at once. I would caution against the use of ‘all mineral’ types of fertilizers for the average homeowner. Although cheaper, special care needs to be used when applying these types or you could burn your entire lawn.



All granular type Lawn Fertilizers have (3) main ingredients:

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium

These (3), listed in order, are the numbers that appear on the bags of Lawn Fertilizer. In other words, if you buy a fertilizer that reads: ‘24-4-8’, the bag contains:

  • (24) parts Nitrogen
  • (4) parts Phosphorous
  • (8) parts Potassium

The remaining ingredients are fillers and other trace minerals. The fillers are there to inhibit clumping and are also used as a coating for time releasing the main ingredients, providing a slower release of these, which in turn provides a longer lasting product (usually 2-3 months).

Most granular type Lawn Fertilizers, being time release types, reduce the risk of burning your lawn by over applying. However, it does not eliminate this effect, so use the product carefully. If you spill fertilizer in a pile on your lawn, you should pick up what you can (using gloves) and disperse the rest with a rake.

Nitrogen promotes foliage and overall growth. It is also responsible for the green color in your lawn. This number should be between (20) and (30) on the bag you purchase for this Spring application.

Phosphorous helps plants develop strong root systems. This number should be at least (4).

Potassium, commonly known as potash, is needed for reproduction and optimal development of plants. It improves drought resistance and activates enzymes in plants. This number should be at least (8).

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Step-by-Step Instructions


Step 1 Dead Branches Removal

If ladders and/or chain saws are required to complete this part of your project, always make sure that you have an assistant working with you. They can stabilize the ladder while you are on it, and will be near to assist you in case of any unfortunate accident. Please proceed with High Caution when using these tools.

Always use the proper safety equipment when working, including, as needed:  Eye Protection, Hearing Protection, Head Protection, and Hand Protection. When using a chain saw, all of the listed Protection is recommended.


Remove all dead limbs and branches from trees, shrubs and evergreens. Always start from the top down, cutting all dead branches and/or limbs from tree tops first, then work your way down to the bottom of each tree. Apply pruning sealer paint to the newly exposed area after you complete each cut. Apply the pruning paint to any branches cut which are larger in diameter than your thumb.

When the taller trees are finished, continue the process with all other shrubs and evergreens on your property. Cut the removed debris into manageable lengths for either burning in a fireplace or fire pit, or for proper disposal.


Begin the process by equipping yourself with the proper safety equipment needed for this project. Wear safety glasses or goggles, along with either mechanic’s gloves or leather gloves. If using a chain saw, also wear a hard hat and use hearing protection.

Next, gather all of the tools that you will use to complete your tasks. If your are using ladders and/or chain saws, it is always a good idea to have an assistant to help stabilize the ladders, and to also be near if there is any unfortunate accident.

Start with the tallest tree, working from the top down. When setting up a ladder, make sure that it is completely stable before you begin your climb. If the ground is muddy, set the ladder legs on scrap pieces of plywood to make it more stable.

You can easily identify any dead branches by the fact that they will have NO buds on the limb. If a limb is only partially dead, prune the branch at the outer edge of the furthest bud. Remember to seal each cut that is larger than the diameter of your thumb, with pruning paint as you go, covering all of the exposed area completely, in order to insure that NO insect penetration or disease will develop there.

If using a chain saw, make sure that you are NOT underneath where the cut limb will fall. Your assistant should also be equipped with the proper safety gear, and should always be aware of what you are doing. Communication between you and your assistant will need to be loud, since you are both wearing hearing protection.

Continue working on each tree from the top down until complete. Then, go on to the next, working in the same manner. When finished, cut all dead wood into manageable sizes for future burning or disposal. Large diameter logs should be set aside for future splitting, if you will be burning them. Small diameter twigs can be cut into 6” or shorter lengths and stored in a 5-gallon bucket to later be used as kindling to assist in starting a fire in your fireplace or fire pit.

If you are disposing of the debris, branches 2” in diameter and smaller, should be cut into 4’ or shorter lengths, and tied into bundles with nylon cord, weighing less than 50 lbs. each. Larger diameter logs should be cut into 6” lengths, and depending on the amount, may require a special pickup by your disposal company.

When all of the trees have been completed, move on to your shrubs and evergreens. When pruning dead wood from roses, prune to just beyond the last bud on a branch, then seal any cuts with vaseline.


Step 2 Clean House Gutters

Remove all leaves and debris from house gutters.

Once all of the dead wood has been removed from all of your trees, shrubs, and evergreens, it is time to clean the gutters on the house. In most cases, this will require an extension ladder, 5-gallon bucket, and a bungee cord, along with a pair of gloves and safety glasses. If the gutters and debris are dry, a leaf blower will make quick work of this task.

See my Post:   Easiest Way to Clean Gutters


Step 3 Clean Debris from Plants and Planting Beds

Clean all Leaves and Debris from Plants and Planting Beds. Remove all dead debris from perennials, such as hostas, day lilies, etc. Also remove any existing weeds in the planting beds, as well as any dead plants.

Begin by removing any leaves and debris from any plants in the beds. Do NOT be afraid to stick your hands deep inside to remove the debris. (Be sure that you are wearing safety glasses and gloves.) You will NOT damage any healthy branches, and will dislodge any dead wood. Plants with a thick congestion of branches, making it difficult to reach all the way in to the middle, may require you to remove some of the debris with a stick or other long object like a long handled weed picker or screwdriver. Be careful NOT to skin the bark on the plants.

Once the plants have been cleaned, you can remove the remaining debris in the open spaces between the plants by either using your blower, hand raking, or hand picking out the debris. Often, a short handled bamboo rake is perfect for this.

Work one planting bed at a time, and continue until all beds have been completed. When finished, go back through the beds and remove any and all existing weeds, using a weed picker if necessary, in order to try and remove most of the weeds by the roots. You can either blow the leaves and debris into the lawn, or collect it into your 5-gallon bucket, emptying it into a garbage can or lawn disposal bag as necessary.

Also, remove any dead plants at this time. You can identify any dead plants by the lack of any buds on the plant. If you are not sure, wait until the leaves begin protruding from the buds, so that you do NOT remove any live plants. Removal of any dead plants may require a pointed round digging shovel, an axe, or perhaps a pick. Cut up any plants removed and dispose of properly.


Step 4 Clean Dead Grass and Debris from Lawn

Begin by picking up any sticks and branches in the lawn and disposing of them as you wish. Depending on the size of your property, how many helpers you may have, along with the condition of your lawn, will determine how best to clean your lawn. Large lawns or those with a lot of thatch buildup (dead grass), may require renting a power dethatcher in order to do a good job. Medium or small lawns, and those that so not have a lot of thatch buildup can be raked by hand using a bamboo or metal tined rake. Clean up all leaves and debris on the lawn and dispose of properly.

After cleaning up all of the sticks and branches on the lawn and disposing of them or saving them to burn later, you will need to remove all leaves, debris, and dead grass in the lawn. Doing a thorough job will insure that the lawn will have the best chance to receive the proper nutrients throughout the year, by way of rain and fertilizer.

If you have a large lawn, or one that has a lot of thatch buildup, you will be better off renting a power dethatcher. Rent one with a catcher bag for best results and time saving. These machines are efficient at removing massive amounts of dead grass along with any embedded debris, however, they should only be used on dry lawns. Using one of these machines on wet ground will cause a lot of damage.

You can usually rent one of these machines at your local Home Center or Equipment Rental Establishment. The Rental Center will explain to you how to use it for the best results. They have a depth control that will allow you to set how deep the tines will go. This should be set to barely scratch the bare ground, or just slightly above. Keep an eye on the bag and empty it when it comes close to being full or you will begin leaving all the dead grass on your lawn.

If you have a manageably sized lawn that does NOT have a lot of thatch buildup, and you will be raking it by hand, then a bamboo rake is your best choice. The tines are closer together than on the metal tined rakes, and will do a better and quicker job of removing the dead drass and debris. You may need to clean the ends of the bamboo tines occasionally, as they may build up with mud and dead grass, reducing your efficiency.

Raking the lawn for your Spring cleanup is NOT like raking leaves in the Fall. You need to apply more pressure to the rake, NOT just skim the top. It is a much more time consuming process. Remember, your objective is NOT only to remove the leaves that are on the surface, but also those that are embedded in the grass, along with, sticks, rocks, and dead grass. If you attempt to get nearly every leaf out of your lawn, you will inadvertently also remove most of the dead grass in most cases. Be patient and do a good job. You will appreciate the results over the course of the year.

Begin by raking the perimeter of a given area of your lawn, and then rake in rows, short or long rows does NOT matter. I often mix it up when I rake to help avoid the monotony of the whole process. When large amounts of dead grass and debris begin forming in your rows, you can rake them into a pile and pick up when you desire. Dispose of the dead grass and debris by either placing it in garbage cans or lawn bags as needed in your area. You should stomp these down with your feet every couple of feet, in order to get the most debris in a container.


Step 5 Cut Your Grass

Although your grass may not be long at this time, Cut your Grass before applying your Spring fertilizer. In essence, you are more vacuuming than cutting. Set your lawnmower 1 or 2 positions lower than you normally cut your lawn at during the Summer. You will suck up any dead grass and leaves that you have failed to rake up, and will provide your lawn the best chance of accepting rain and fertilizer. Make sure that you are using a catcher bag. NO mulching now. Cutting your lawn short at this time, will encourage root growth, as well as supply you with better vacuuming power.


Step 6 Fertilize Your Lawn

Using a rotary spreader, apply lawn fertilizer to your lawn.

Now it is time to apply the year’s first application of lawn fertilizer. Do NOT use a weed & feed at this time, since it would be a waste of money. Weeds can only be killed when they are actively growing.

You will need to know the approximate square footage of your lawn so that you can purchase the correct amount of fertilizer. Measure the length of each area, and multiply it by the width of that area. Then add all of the areas totals to get the grand total of how much square footage you have. Fertilizer usually comes in 5,000 sq. ft., 10,00 sq. ft., and 15,000 sq. ft. bags. Better to have a little too much then not enough.

Apply your time-release granular lawn fertilizer with a rotary spreader for best results. (A drop spreader can be used, but is much more time consuming to use. Drop spreaders are better for applying weed & feed.) Check the bag to make sure that your spreader brand is included in the settings area, so that you will know for sure that your spreader will be set at the correct spread rate.

If your rotary spreader brand is NOT shown, you will have to experiment for the proper coverage. You can do this by initially setting your spreader at about (8 – 10). Divide your total lawn square footage into equal portions. You can use eighths, quarters, thirds, whatever seems to work best. Put on your work gloves, and then, pour that portion of the lawn fertilizer into your spreader. Measure and mark that portion on your lawn, so that you know the area that must be covered. Apply the fertilizer in your spreader to that area only, and judge whether or NOT it has been covered correctly.

If the spreader emptied before you were able to complete that area, you will need to reduce your setting and attempt a second area. If the spreader still has some fertilizer left in the spreader after completing the application to that area, you will need to increase the setting, and dispense the remaining fertilizer in the test area. (You can either do this by hand, or go in a 90 degree direction to the 1st application. Once you find the optimal setting, write it down somewhere and place it in a handy place for future reference, so that you will NOT have to repeat this process again.

Put on your work gloves, and set your spreader at the correct setting number according to the fertilizer bag directions or your test results. With your spreader in the OFF position, and on a NON-lawn surface, such as a driveway, sidewalk, or patio, fill the spreader 1/2 to 2/3 full with your fertilizer. Then, while moving forward into your lawn, turn the spreader on. NEVER turn the spreader on in a stopped position, or the product will begin pouring out. Also, be very careful when refilling the spreader on your lawn, so that you do NOT spill the product. If you do, immediately collect what you can and put it back into your Spreader, and disperse the rest with a rake.

Rotary spreaders will generally apply at about a 6’ spread width, so your 1st pass should be about 3’ away from the edge of your lawn. Keep your lines as straight as possible when applying the fertilizer, closing your spreader to the OFF position when reaching the end of the application area, and begin moving before you return it to the ON position. Overlap your rows slightly, walking briskly as you apply. The faster you walk, the further it will spread, so consequently the less coverage you are getting. Walking to slow will apply too much, and walking too fast will NOT apply enough. Walk briskly, but do NOT run. If there is a small area where you feel that you did NOT apply enough, you can grab a handful of the fertilizer (using gloves) and spread it on the area by hand.

These time-release fertilizers do NOT require you to have to water them in. They will remain dormant until the next rainfall, at which time, they will begin being activated. I would NOT recommend using a liquid fertilizer at this time, since the lawn is still dormant, and these types of fertilizers are NOT a time-release type. You will be just wasting your money. Liquid fertilizers can be applied during the Summer to provide a quick green up of your lawn.

Once the weather warms up, and the Spring rains come, your lawn should begin to green up nicely.


Please take the time to leave a Comment, letting me know how your project went.


Thanks, and Have a Great Year!


CJ Dodaro


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