It’s spring. I’ve seen my first snowdrops, been outside doing garden chores and on my windowsill are colorful primroses . . . a sign of green things to come.
While it is too early for us to plant outside, it’s not too early to start the season in other ways. Now is a good time to begin cleaning up the garden and raking; just be careful not to damage any emerging plants. If you have tender perennials, leave some mulch around the crowns to protect them should we get another bout of bad weather.
Once the garden is picked up, add compost, aged manure or slow-release fertilizer to the beds. Spread the compost or fertilizer in a circle around the plants. Don’t do the lawn yet — it’s too early to fertilize the lawn. Wait until Memorial Day.
Here are a few other projects for those of you who just can’t wait to be in the garden.
Pruning is the perfect activity for those early warm days when you really want to be outdoors. Right now — before leaves emerge and obscure the branches — you can see what branches need to go.
Not sure which branches to take out? Start with any branches that were damaged this winter by heavy snow and ice. Also, remove branches that are weak, crossing others or growing toward the center of the plant.
As you prune, cut branches back nearly flush with the limb or trunk. Don’t do an overall pruning of every shrub in your garden. Some spring bloomers, such as lilacs or forsythias, are best pruned after they bloom. Otherwise you will cut off the this year’s flowers. Certain shrubs should be pruned now. For example, the butterfly bush and caryopteris both benefit from an early spring pruning.
Perennials can be cared for by removing the leaves and mulch you covered them with last fall. Trim back old stalks before new growth begins.
Rose bushes benefit from an annual pruning. Begin by removing all canes emerging from the ground below the graft swelling. Aim for a bush with four to six 18-inch long canes.
Make your cuts on an angle about a quarter of an inch above an outward-facing bud. The goal is to bring light and air into the center of the bush.
Another early season activity that will prepare you for the season is getting your gardening tools in good order. It feels good to go into the shed and pull out your gardening gear. If you didn’t do it last fall, now is a good time to get your shovels and lawn mower blades sharpened and ready.
This year I intend to paint the handles of my tools a bright color so they — hopefully — never get lost again. I’m thinking of a bright red or vivid yellow.
If you are in the market for a new trowel, try out several at the garden center. Not all trowels are created equal. Some just feel better in your hand and others come with a blade that is serrated along one side and still others have a ruler etched into the blade, which is useful when you set seedlings along a row or plant bulbs a certain depth.
Consider converting a carpenter’s apron into a garden apron. You can keep your pruners in the pocket along with tape for tying plants to a trellis, a note pad, pencil or even seed packets.
Another convenience would be a plastic snow sled, an old golf cart or a 5-gallon bucket that can be used to cart tools around the garden.
If you have a gardening idea that saves you time and effort, let me know and I will share it in a future column. And don’t forget, this weekend is the “Capital District Flower and Garden Show” in Troy, another sure sign of spring.
Natalie Walsh is a horticulturist in addition to being the Gazette’s special sections editor. You can reach her at email@example.com.