With spring having already sprung, it has been time to put away all the winter clothes, change out the flannel sheets, and do the dreaded spring cleaning. This past winter was unusually windy, but not rainy here in our record drought prone area. The wind has created a lot of problems for our property with the dry weather hurting a lot of our older trees, completely killing some, and damaging ground covers too. So, it was time to bring the family together for a day or two of outdoor chores.
So, if we are going to be doing chores as a family, there has to be a way to do it with fun, the Disney way right? Just a spoonful of fun somehow should do the trick. Well, with the addition of some incentives, some strategic branch freeze tag, and competitions to see who could find the coolest rock (or two) we should be able to make these outdoor chores fun for all of us. Then it was time to grab our gloves and whistle while we worked. To make it easier we were lucky enough to pick the perfect day. Not a hot one, but not a cold one either. Luckily the sky was calm with a brilliant display of clouds on the day we picked.
As with any chore day, it is important to think and plan what you are going to do and set out to accomplish as much as you can. On this day, my husband and I decided to get some new ground cover plants and scrubs, re-mulch our slopes, remove as much dead growth on our trees, open up our driveway access road again, and try to spruce up our little slice of heaven. To do this we spilt into teams. Since I am the one with the green thumb, I was tasked with planning the slopes and planting the new growth. That left Beck and Elizabeth to help my hubby with the heavy lifting.
Since we do live rural we have the luxury of not having to bag up our yard waste. We simply drag it all to the fire area, stack it nicely, and wait until the local rural fire department is issuing burn permits and we can mass burn it. Some people just burn what they have, but we have to wait for permission since we are in a severe drought and live in a high risk for wildfires. This just means we live just far enough outside of town to be rural and on the edge of a national forest where it is very beautiful, but primitive and brush is not really maintained, so occasionally wildfires happen. Enough about that though, back to the chores at hand.
So, as my husband was dragging bigger branches away and pulling and tugging branches to find the dead ones, Beck and Elizabeth were helping him cut the taller tree branches. This was the first year that they could cut branches under a little bit of supervision. It was fun to see them playing lumber jack and yelling timber as they cut the branches too. Here they are having some fun with their chores:
It was fun to see the kids really helping each other out. Then, once the branches were cut they cleared the undergrowth and leaves with rakes. While they were racking they had fun playing tag and swords with some of the branches. It was also fun to see my husband call out timber and see Beck and Elizabeth try to run away as far as they could before the branches hit the ground. If they weren’t having fun helping it sure didn’t show because they were laughing up a storm and all full of smiles almost the entire time. Without their help the outdoor chores would have taken a lot longer. My husband and I took the time throughout the chores to thank them and let them know this too, and even played with them during their games too. It is important to us to work as a family unit, but also to make it known that we are appreciative when they help out.
This process went on all morning with the kids and my husband clearing branches and making UPS truck sized passages through the trees along the creek edge to the house. For privacy and security we have started planting scrubs up on a slope near our actual house. The idea is to create a small buffer where the kids and dogs can play safely near the house, but also create a divider between the natural areas and the living areas around the house. To do this we selected a type of scrub that I hope will stop my nemesis: squirrels, from eating them up. Everything I have planted previously has been eaten to the stem by squirrels and rabbits. I despise squirrels, but it is hard to get mad at the fluffy wild peter cotton tails, even when they are eating my plants. So, in the hopes of sustaining my new shrubs, I selected Sweet Blossom. These shrubs should get big enough to create the buffer we want and deer do not like this scent and will not eat it. I am hoping that is the key to keeping the squirrels and rabbits away from them too.
As you can see, the shrubs look like they should fill out nicely. They have some pretty looking flowers as well. One tip that I learned is to pre-dig your holes and fill them with water until they are full. Then, let that water drain through the soil and fill it up once more. When the second filling is drained out immediately insert your planting materials and plants. This way the subsurface soil will be saturated and the plant’s root will seek out the water in the soil and help get established sooner, thereby living longer. This process seemed to work very well for all the plants I planted this time. Immediately installing mulch also helps to trap the moisture in the soil and helps to insulate the new roots as they establish themselves. While my husband and I were digging the holes for the plants it was fun to see Beck and Elizabeth try to dig the holes first. They tried to make it a competition, but the ground didn’t really let either of them win unfortunately. In the end, it fell to my husband to start the holes first, and then they had more fun digging them deeper.
To help re-constitute our slope I placed bark mulch all around the slopes, all around the new shrubs, around existing plants on our slopes, and all over the barren areas of the slope as well to keep moisture in and help the soil sustain growth. It didn’t hurt either that Lowe’s was running a very sweet sale that was essentially 65% off the bark and 50% off the shrubs either. When we were at the store looking we just had to make the purchase because although we didn’t know about the sale, we could just not pass up on the deep discounts. Another plant that I have had some success with is Rosemary. I have planted a few rosemary bushes around the slopes to keep rabbits and squirrels at bay and to have a fresh supply for cooking too and they were on sale as well, so I picked a few more up to plant too.
The rosemary we have is a variety of low shrubs and tall bushes. The picture above is from one that Elizabeth planted last year from one of the small kitchen plants-in-a-pot you see in your local garden centers. It took very well and has been a great grower and provider of fresh rosemary. I still have no clue as to why the squirrels and rabbits leave them alone, but I love my rosemary plants for their wonderful scent as well.
In another part of our yard we have a tree that I have no clue as to what it is. The only thing I know is that I really like it because when I water it I can see almost immediate ‘green’ growth on it and humming birds come out of nowhere to feed on its sweet nectar. Many a morning I have looked out at this tree with my morning cup of coffee and stopped to watch the pretty little hummingbirds feed. Sometimes I think that this tree is dying, but I just give it some more water and it pops back to life right away.
With all the planting done, my husband ended up with a bunch of wood he ‘harvested’ with his chainsaw, saws, and clippers of all sizes and shapes. This got me thinking. If you did not already know, when I can I like to watch home improvement shows, renovation shows, and the like. I decided to follow the lead of one episode I saw and went through the wood pile and found a sturdy trunk section. I then painted a 2×4 piece of wood we had lying around and Elizabeth and I decorated it as a family name place sign with our name and address on it. It was fun to put together and looks really great in our driveway leading up to our home.
Since we live in a mountains we have a lot of nice rocks. Small, medium, large, and even huge boulders. They are fun to see and add a lot of character to the local landscape, but my husband I decided that we needed to define our driveway better, so he and the children spent a few hours each day over the following days to find piles of rock to bring back to line the driveway with. I think it came out looking very rural, functional, and adds a lot of character to our driveway.
Now all we have left to do is for my husband to clear all the brush out to 100 feet away from our house itself to be defensible during wildfires, if there are any, and we are crossing our fingers that there isn’t any this year around us. This is the start of weekly trimmings for him where he will literally take a few hours each weekend to do it right and keep our home safe. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so he will loathe it, but do it each weekend, little by little with the children by his side helping.
So, even though you might not want to do them, doing outdoor chores, especially massive spring time chores, as a family can help the work go quickly. Without the help of Elizabeth and Beck I have no idea how long it would have taken my husband and I alone to perform all of the outdoor chores we needed to this spring. Try to make it fun for children by racing to see who can get something done first, let them give the new plants a “shower”, listen to a bird singing a sweet spring song to see who can identify the bird, the possibilities are really endless!
What have or are you doing for outdoor spring time chores this year?