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Here in South Central PA we gardeners start getting antsy this time of year. It’s staying light out longer and warm days sprinkled in the still chilly months of March and April start giving us major spring fever. It’s the time of year when we want to get outside and get our hands dirty but what can we do when our last frost date is still a month-and-a-half away?
I like to use this time as a general clean-up period. There are parts of my flowerbeds that I like to let die down in the fall which allows the leaves to act as insulation. One of these plants is Hosta. By this time of year they are a dead skeletal mess and quite an eyesore. Mild days are perfect for getting out and cleaning up the ugly dead debris. I rake away the leaves and cut off any leftover woody flower spikes. Sometimes you may even see the “eyes” of the Hosta popping up ready to start this year’s reliable return.
Plants that have served a purpose over winter, such as feeding birds, can also be cut down. I leave my Black-Eyed Susans and Coneflowers up as a source of food each winter. The heads are full of seeds at the end of the growing season. Now is the time to cut them down. If they still contain seeds I cut them down but still try to keep them accessible to the birds.
The same goes for the other woody seed pods that have stayed up over winter. My Miniature Iris pods didn’t provide food but are still intact so I’ll cut them down along with the dead, brown leaves so that everything is tidy before the new green leaves grow in. This way you don’t end up cutting the new growth along with the dead leaves.
Each fall I rake the fallen leaves into my beds. I like to think that they are helping insulate the beds and supply nutrients as they decompose over winter. During spring cleanup I clear away all of those leaves, dead plant material and sticks. This plant material can be composted and returned to the beds later.
spring is a great time to prune shrubs that bloom on new wood or growth
March is also the month I start thinking about pruning. But not every plant likes to be pruned in the spring. Check your specific plant’s recommended pruning time to be sure. I have a couple of plants that I prune each spring. I go by the old adage “When the forsythia blooms it’s time to prune”. This means that I don’t prune anything until I see neighboring forsythia bushes blooming. The plants I prune every spring include my roses and spirea.
While I try to keep the rose and viburnum pruning minimal I like to give the spireas a complete chop job. As a matter of fact, my spireas are trimmed to about 6-8 inches each spring. This allows me to get into the belly if the plant and remove old dead wood. The plant returns to normal size by summer. Not all spireas may respond the same but my Goldflame variety flourishes with this care.
Some gardeners may choose to lay mulch at this time but I usually wait until later in the season. It’s very tempting to think about planting, too but I try to hold out as long as possible because of my zone 6b frost date. Only plant those plants that can handle the cold like Primrose or Pansies.
I plant my favorite annuals like Hyacinth Bean Vine and Morning Glories about a week or so before the last freeze date which is usually May 10th. I don’t like to have to worry about covering them up at night if temps are going to drop. Check with your local garden center if you don’t know your final frost date.
Now is the time of year to make repairs to any broken garden structures, too. If you have a trellis or pergola in need of repairs use this time to make fixes before the plants grow up and cover the structure. Fix broken birdbaths or garden paths now and you’ll have more time to enjoy these things during blooming season.
There are lots of worthwhile things you can do this time of year to get a jump start on gardening. Using the few nice days here and there to tackle projects now and you’ll have more time to sit back and admire the beauty you helped create later.