There is little actual outdoor gardening activity at this time of year, but there are a number of things you can do now to improve the performance of your plants and garden when spring arrives.
Shrubs and Trees
- Late winter is the time to prune many shade and fruit trees. Look over your plants now and remove dead, dying, unsightly parts of the tree, sprouts growing at or near the base of the tree trunk, crossed branches, and V-shaped crotches. Although bleeding is not harmful to the tree, you might want to hold off pruning heavy sap bleeders such as birches, maples, and elms until early summer to avoid the sap flow. Also, it may be best to wait until fall to prune oaks due to the risk of oak wilt disease.
- This is not the time for most evergreens to be pruned, particularly pines. Pines should only be pruned by pinching back the candles that typically appear in June. However, an overgrown yew or juniper needing major pruning could be addressed in early April, right before new growth starts to occur. Remember to cut back to green shoots when reducing the size of these plants.
- If you think back over the yard work of last year and feel it took too much time and effort to maintain, an analysis of your site and the suitability of your plantings is in order. Landscaping looks best and is most easily maintained where a site has been analyzed for its natural characteristics, including soil texture, pH, drainage, slopes, sun and shade patterns, wind direction and intensity, exposure to salt or air pollution, and so on. With such an analysis in hand, you can select plants that work with your site, rather than in spite of it. The result will be reduced maintenance and a better-looking landscape.
- If you are planning to add shade trees to your landscape, here are a few things you should know. Some types of trees have roots that may invade drain fields, crack walks, and pierce foundation walls, so carefully plan the placement and species of trees to avoid problems. For instance, poplar and ash are known for cracking walls and should be planted at the perimeter of the yard. Maple roots can raise heavy concrete sidewalks, and willow and crabapple trees can invade drainage fields with their fibrous roots.
- If we get a nice warm day — above 40° F — you can apply another coat of anti-desiccant spray to protect your plants from drying out in the cold winds.
Perennials, Annuals, and Bulbs
- When shoveling your walks and driveway, put the snow on your perennial beds as a form of insulation. But avoid piling several feet of snow since it will take too long to melt in the spring, and don't dump snow on perennials if harmful salt is mixed in.
- If you are considering installing supplemental lighting for your indoor plants, the 48-inch, 40-watt fixture with two fluorescent tubes is the industry standard. Use one cool white and one warm white tube to obtain the light mix most beneficial to plants.
- Geranium seeds started now will produce plants large enough to transplant to outdoor flowerbeds in May. Plant in sterilized potting soil, covering them about one-fourth inch deep.
- If you overwintered geraniums (Pelargoniums), bring them out of hibernation toward the end of February. After a few weeks they will have produced strongly growing shoots, especially if the plants are placed in bright light, potted in a fertile potting mixture, and watered well. New shoots can be used as cuttings to replace weakly growing plants; many times geraniums that have been stored over winter don't regain their original vigor, but cuttings will produce a healthy plant.
- To get you in the mood for spring, force spring-flowering plants such as pussy willow, forsythia, and crab apple into bloom indoors. Using a pair of sharp pruning shears, cut branches about 12 inches long, selecting those with a large number of buds. For best results, totally submerge in water overnight to allow the buds and stems to absorb water quickly and begin to break the cycle of dormancy, and then make a slit or two in the bottom of the stem and place in lukewarm water. Put the containers of branches in a cool area (60–65° F) in bright but indirect light. Pussy willows should bloom in one to two weeks, forsythia in one to three weeks, and crab apples in two to four weeks.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Prepare for seeding by purchasing seed flats, containers, and peat pellets, and check your cold frame for needed repairs. It's also a good time to finish up your seed order, if you haven't done so already.
- Test leftover garden seed for germination. Place ten seeds between moist paper toweling or cover with a thin layer of soil. Keep seeds warm and moist. If less than six seeds germinate, then fresh seed should be purchased.
- Handle seed packets carefully. Rubbing the outside to determine how many seeds are inside can break the protective seed coats, thereby reducing germination.
- If you want three-foot tomato transplants in June, now is the time to plant them indoors. They can be started as late as April but they will not be the big, healthy specimens you will have if you start in February.