We’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to winter weather and the threat of frost, but we’re right on the cusp of another growing season and there’s much to be done in preparation for spring planting. That means attending to all those little chores that were left undone last fall and giving some thought to the direction you’d like your landscape to take this season.
Make a plan
If you didn’t do so during the winter dormant season, you still have time to plan what to include in new planting beds or how to renovate existing ones. Consider your successes and failures from last year to help you decide which plants to incorporate and which to leave out this spring.
Take a careful look at all the planting beds in your landscape to determine how microclimates—i.e., differences in sun, wind, and temperature exposure at various points in your landscape—might affect its design. For example, one corner of the house might get substantially more afternoon sun or drying winds than an adjacent area just a few feet away (depending on the position of protective structures, overhanging trees, etc.). Subtle differences in growing conditions like these often explain why, for example, one azalea specimen in a long row of azaleas struggles to thrive while the others seem to do just fine.
How did your landscaping strike you over this past winter? Were you looking at nothing but bare ground after the first hard frost? If so, you might consider incorporating some evergreens to provide year-round structure as well as plants with winter interest such as red-twig dogwoods and ornamental grasses with attractive seed heads.
Did you have a hard time providing adequate moisture to plants in the more sun-drenched reaches of your landscape last summer? Why not do a little xeriscaping, or planting with specimens that can thrive in arid conditions? Coreopsis, barberries, sedums, salvias, and yuccas are just some of the drought-tolerant plants suited for the dry landscape in our area.
Were your plants overgrown and crowding one another out? You might plan to redefine your beds by thinning out the plantings. If weeds were overrunning your beds, you might consider installing landscape fabric over open areas of soil to prevent them from getting a foothold this year.
Work and amend the soil
Soil amendments are best added in the fall so they have adequate time to do their job. However, it’s better to add them late than to attempt to plant in soil that is too heavy, sandy, or acidic. If your soil is lacking in organic matter, work in a good layer of compost and peat moss as soon as the ground is workable. Also, get your soil’s pH tested to determine whether it’s in the correct range for the plants you intend to incorporate. Many garden centers will test your soil for you free of charge. Soil that is too acidic can be sweetened with the addition of agricultural lime. If too alkaline, garden sulfur can be added to lower the pH.
Did you put off the chore of dormant pruning this winter? You can still catch up provided you don’t prune too excessively. Go ahead and cut back the dead top growth of your perennials and ornamental grasses. Trees and shrubs can be pruned judiciously to remove dead, diseased, weak, or crossing branches. However, avoid overall pruning of trees and shrubs that bloom on last year’s growth, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, forsythias, Hydrangea macrophylla, lilacs, and magnolias. To prune them aggressively now would eliminate many of the dormant buds and deprive you of spring blossoms. Wait until after blooming to prune spring-flowering plants. Hybrid tea, floribunda, and grandiflora roses can be pruned now, but ramblers and climbers should be left unpruned until after they bloom. Hold off pruning evergreens until late spring or early summer. Prune fruit trees before new growth appears.
Remove winter protection
Depending on the temperature, it’s usually safe to pull back heavy mulch layers and to remove protective burlap, foam rose cones, and other forms of winter protection by the end of March. This is especially recommended for foam rose cones, which can trap heat and cause roses to mold. Just keep an ear to the weather forecast and be prepared to replace the cones in the event of a late cold snap. ❦