John Paulsen is a diligent caretaker of his acreage and has learned that planning ahead makes maintenance much easier.

How to welcome spring when you live on an acreage

John Paulsen has lived on his five-and-a-quarter acres in Springbank for more than two decades.

“It was always my dream to live on an acreage.”

And he made that dream come true when he designed and built his home in Springbank, after living in Calgary’s Silver Springs community.

Each year, when spring rolls around, Paulsen looks forward to helping his acreage out of hibernation, a process he says is much easier if proper maintenance is done prior to winter, including cleaning garden beds, checking door seals, watering trees to build up their moisture stores and draining hoses.

“If you do most of the work in the fall, then your start up in the spring is much less,” he said.

He says the difference between spring cleaning an acreage and a yard in the city is “a matter of scale.”

“If you’re going to live on an acreage, either you should be financially set to have someone do the work for you, or you have to like doing it yourself,” said Paulsen, noting that he belongs in the latter category.

Part of Paulsen’s dream of living on an acreage involved creating a hobby tree farm.

“When we first moved here, it was flat grazing land. Since then, I’ve planted about two-thousand trees,” he said, adding that it’s not a commercial venture.

“I’m just happy to create a forest,” he said, suggesting it’s a true labour of love.

Many people jump on their lawns too early. I leave the grass a little bit longer before I clean any leaves and debris to give time for the grass to grow underneath it.

With so many trees, one of the most important tasks on Paulsen’s spring schedule involves checking them for disease and damage caused by winter snow load or deer. He cuts away damage and prunes his trees in late winter/early spring when the weather is still relatively cold and the trees haven’t started to bud.

Paulsen also has a garden, which yields, among other things, his favourite produce: fresh tomatoes. With the spring thaw, he hand turns the soil in his garden and rototills his tree nursery to get the soil primed for planting.

Of course, lawn care is a large part of the spring-cleaning regimen on an acreage. It’s a task made especially necessary because of potential grass fires.

“Our entire house is surrounded by groomed grass,” he said. “There isn’t fire load in that, as very short grass doesn’t have the same potential to catch on fire.”

Rocky View County’s website, in fact, outlines several steps to help acreage owners “FireSmart” their properties: Remove all long grass, shrubs, logs, branches, twigs and needles within 10 metres of your home; mow and regularly water the grass within 10 metres of buildings; prune the first two metres of branches on tree trunks; plant fire-resistant trees like aspen, birch or poplar instead of spruce and pine.

Paulsen says he doesn’t start his lawn clean-up and mowing schedule as early as some.

“Many people jump on their lawns too early. I leave the grass a little bit longer before I clean any leaves and debris to give time for the grass to grow underneath it,” said Paulsen, adding he only hand rakes his lawn, and not too deeply, to allow protective thatch to accumulate.

While some landscaping companies advertise lawn aerating on their spring-maintenance menu, Paulsen says he doesn’t do this every year, only occasionally, to de-compact the soil and allow air and moisture to penetrate more deeply.

Paulsen also looks after the kilometre of gravel road to his house.

“Road maintenance is ongoing,” he said, adding that a lot of that maintenance is done in the spring.

“I check if there are potholes and the gravel cover. I tow an old railway track behind my truck. It acts like a grader,” said Paulsen, adding he also lays down new gravel every few years.

Simone Byers also lives in Springbank on a 17-acre plot of land. Like Paulsen, her spring-cleaning regimen includes pruning trees, as well as mowing and fertilizing an acre-and-a-half of grass around the house.

One of the most important spring-cleanup projects Byers conducts on her acreage involves going over her property and removing what Rocky View County designates as noxious weeds, like sow thistle.

“We hand pull them and mow a lot to nip these weeds in the bud,” she said.

While not everyone would relish such a task, Byers, who is in her 70s and has lived on her 17 acres for some forty years, laughs, “It keeps us young.”