If you are like me, you need to get outside soon or you will just scream. There are some gardening chores that can be done outside now during late winter/early spring that will help you maintain your sanity.
This is a great time of year to get outside and prune fruit trees, ornamental trees and shrubs. Prune to thin out plants, remove dead wood, train growth, reduce size and rejuvenate plants. Limit the amount you prune at any one time to 1/3 of the plants mass. Removing more is considered heavy pruning and can cause problems, although some situations require this type of pruning.
Pruning flowering shrubs and trees now will not damage or kill them but will reduce the spring flower show because you will remove the flower buds with the pruned branches. Spring flowering plants are best pruned soon after they have finished flowering.
Most roses appreciate a good pruning now, too. Consult a good rose book for the best methods to trim your type of rose since timing and methods vary widely with individual types. Floribunda, hybrid tea, climbing, shrub and miniature roses all have different care guidelines.
Many trees and shrubs can be pruned in March, too. Fruit trees, evergreens, many deciduous trees, raspberry canes, grapevines and more can all be trimmed and shaped before new growth begins. Armed with good hand pruners, loppers and a pruning saw, you can tackle all but the biggest of jobs. One of your best tools is a good pruning book that will give you specific techniques for trimming the plants in your yard.
Don't forget your perennial beds. Start cutting back the plants that you left standing for winter interest. By now you've probably noticed the first green swirls of new growth on your 'Autumn Joy' sedum, so you can cut off the spent flowers. The birds have picked clean the seeds from your purple coneflower, so those attractive seed heads can get snipped off, too. As soon as the first leaves surface on your butterfly bush and bluebeard, you can prune them back as well to spur new growth and bountiful blooms.
Get a jump on the season by edging and weeding your beds. By digging and teasing out weeds now when they are small, you save yourself countless hours of weeding in the summer heat. Cutting in a neat edge on your garden beds also slows weeds' progress and gives your landscape a neat, professional appearance.
Now is the time to start watering trees and shrubs that you planted in the fall. Newly planted trees and shrubs need supplemental watering for a full year to stay healthy, grow good roots and flower well. As soon as you see new leaves appear, start watering. A slow, steady watering is best. Try using a hose on a slow trickle or a soaker hose to water deeply and well.
Even if you cleaned up your garden in the fall, there will still be plenty to do. The weather in March is not always the most inviting, but, there will be enough good days to get out there. Just remember one thing. Never walk on your garden when it is wet because the soil gets compacted (destroys the air spaces necessary for plant health.)
March is also a good time to clean up leaves and cut down grasses. Start by cleaning up all the leaves you can. They blow in all winter from other people's yards, and get caught in the old perennials and shrubs in the gardens. Leaves in the garden over the winter help protect the plant crowns and prevent heaving, but if left on too long, large wet leaves can smother small plants. Plus, they look ugly!
Rake the leaves out onto the grass and then run over them with a mulching mower. Once the leaves are mulched, they can go back on the garden, in the compost, or stay on the lawn. If you spread them thin, they are good for the grass.
To cut the big grasses, tie a rope or bungee cord around them, then cut them as close to the ground as possible with the electric hedge clippers. If the middle of the grass clump is starting to doe out, it is time to dig it up and divide it. Do it now before it starts to grow.
Before the leaves come on the trees is a good time to check them for dead, broken or rubbing branches. Depending on the type of tree, the best time for major pruning may vary, but you can always snip a few dead, diseased, or misplaced branches. Also, cut off suckers that grow straight up from the roots of some trees. These weaken the tree and detract from its appearance.
Prune back shrubs that flower on new wood. Some shrubs that fall under this heading are Little Princess spirea, abelia, Annabelle hydrangea, butterfly bush, beautyberry, knock-out roses, Jackmani Clematis, and Russian sage. As a general rule, cut them back to about one foot.
Cut back all perennials. Wait until the middle of the month to do this because the old dead stems and debris protect the crowns from the cold.
About the time all of these chores are finished, the bulbs are starting to bloom, the grass is green, and suddenly the yard looks great!
Don and Sandy Landers are owners of Dream Garden Hydroponics, LLC.