A gorgeous yard — with thick green grass, waves of colorful flowers and well-pruned shrubs — is the perfect backdrop for backyard barbecues, games of tag and daydreaming. Follow these yard and garden maintenance steps now so you’ll have more time this summer to relax and enjoy your outdoor slice of paradise.

A gorgeous yard — with thick green grass, waves of colorful flowers and well-pruned shrubs — is the perfect backdrop for backyard barbecues, games of tag and daydreaming. Follow these yard and garden maintenance steps now so you’ll have more time this summer to relax and enjoy your outdoor slice of paradise.

Water wisely
Look at plants carefully before you water. “Wait until they show signs of wilt, then water thoroughly,” advises Ed Lyon, director of Allen Centennial Garden at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
To help prevent diseases, water plants and lawns early in the day so the foliage dries before sunset.

Add mulch
Mulch flowerbeds with wood chips or finely shredded leaves to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds.
Some plants benefit from specific types of mulch.
“Put a quarter-inch layer of crushed oyster shells or white turkey grit under lavender and sage plants,” says Rose Marie Nichols-McGee, owner of Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany, Ore. “The white mulch bounces warm, dry air up through the plant to prevent fungal diseases and enhance growth.”
Mulch tomato, pepper, eggplant and cucumber plants with flattened sheets of used aluminum foil for insect control and to hasten ripening. Light reflected from the foil kills whiteflies, aphids and thrips on the underside of plant leaves and focuses more sunlight on fruits.

Shape shrubs
Remove dead blooms and prune to shape spring-blooming shrubs such as lilac and forsythia. Prune summer-flowering shrubs after they bloom, too.
“Use hedge shears or hand clippers and take off 2 to 4 inches of growth all over the plant, not just the top,” says gardening expert Nellie Neal of Jackson, Miss. “This haircut will push out new growth, thicken it up and keep the plant looking good into fall.”
Neal also recommends pruning hedges and straggly evergreen shrubs to rejuvenate them.
Save large twigs and small branches as you prune; they make great stakes for floppy delphinium, iris and lilies.

Boost flower power
Remove spent flowers to encourage annuals to produce more blooms. Deadheading also encourages some perennials, such as coreopsis, black-eyed Susan and phlox, to bloom again.
“Fertilize annuals after each flower flush so they have the nutrients to sustain a long blooming season,” Neal says.
Pinch the tips of chrysanthemums every two weeks until July 4 to force plant growth into a wide mound with plenty of flower buds. To encourage bigger gladiola flowers, spray leaves, before buds form, with one tablespoon of Borax dissolved in a quart of warm water. Pinch off the top bud to force open the rest of the buds at once.