Yesterday I had to blink and look twice–I saw Chipmunk out from hibernation snacking alongside the birds on the seed I just scattered. Maybe he fell for some fake news that spring has arrived while the rest of us are still counting down. I hope he’s correct in his assessment, even though his friend Ground Hog has yet to let us know his thoughts on the topic. Knowing February can be a wicked weather month for us, I hope Chipmunk has some inside scoop and we are in the clear. As of this writing we are counting down fifty-two days until spring.
Maybe you’re like me in that you are itching to get outdoors and do some garden-y things. If so, here are some things you can tackle to feel like you are making some progress while you’re counting down:
1. Sharpen your tools. If you haven’t done this back in the fall when you finished cleaning up, jump on it. Sharp tools make clean cuts which is healthier for plants and easier on your hands and wrists. Not sure what to do? Call your local hardware store for help and advice. My favorite pruners, Felco, are super easy to take apart and re-assemble, an easy DIY project. Machine-wise, get on the schedule for lawn mower servicing; this really backs-up once the nice weather hits and you will be burdened with a challenging cut once the turf kicks into growth mode;
2. Take inventory of your hard goods such as twine, refuse containers, garden stakes, fertilizers and the like. Order and buy what you need so you are stocked and ready. It also helps with your budget to spread things out over time as spring can be an expensive time in the garden;
3. Have you had a great time with all the seed and plant catalogues this winter? Go ahead and place your orders; you can request ship dates. You will not be billed until your plants are shipped so by ordering now you ensure you will get the plants that you want while inventories are at their peak;
4. Also order any outdoor accent pillows, cushions and accessories, check on the condition of your outdoor seating for any needed repairs, especially if they are exposed to the elements all year;
5. Clean the grill. Or consider anything new so you can be ready; 6. Cut back any remaining perennials that you didn’t in Autumn. In my garden, this would be Sedum, Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susans. I leave the ornamental grasses a bit longer before cutting back as birds use them for shelter and again when nest-building. 7. My garden friend, Bob, said to use a mild day to pull any perennial weeds–particularly chick weed and dandelion. Chick weed goes to seed as early as the beginning of March so get this under control before then or you’ll have a bumper crop in your 2018 garden. Dandelions will pull out easily with the soft wet ground conditions. Word of caution: tread lightly and carefully in your plant beds: Daffies are coming up as well as Peony and other perennials. You don’t want to trod on them or compact the soil by a heavy step.
8. Winter pruning. Winter is my favorite time for pruning because I can see what I’m doing without all the foliage. This applies to deciduous flowering shrubs only! This is what I call “The rule of Three.” First: cut off any dead stems to the base of the plant. Second: Cut also to the base of the plant the oldest, thickest three stems. STOP AND LOOK–look all around the plant from different angles. Sometimes you are done at this point. You want the plant to look open and not see a whole bunch of stems crossing over each other. Third: Cut again to the base up to a third of the rest of the stalks, especially any suckering stems that spring up from the roots. This pruning method helps promote good air circulation and brings light into the center of the plant which promotes good bloom. Still have questions? Come to the class at Audubon High School; we will talk about this more in detail.
Why do designers care about all this? Because like design, caring for a garden is a process that should be thoughtful and planned for best execution and effect. The reward will be a garden “growing beautiful.”