Late Winter, Early Spring Garden Chores

Late Winter, Early Spring Garden Chores

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Spring is here according to our calendars and the nice weather, although I’ve heard rumours the colder stuff will return for a bit soon. There are many garden or yard chores that should be done this time of year and not put off until the last frost date.

Late winter is considered to be approximately 6 weeks before the beginning of the spring thaw, so will depend on where you live. If you are not sure, count backwards from your area’s last frost date. To me (in zone 4 or 5) this means early April is (usually) late winter or early spring. I can always hope earlier.

It is much easier to see the “bone structure” of your trees before they leaf out, so pruning shade trees like oak and maples now, while they are still dormant, is perfect timing.

Pruning is done for several reasons, even cosmetic ones.

Dead, Broken, Diseased or Crossing Branches

Dead, broken, diseased or crossing/rubbing branches can be cut back at any time during the year. This applies to trees and shrubs. Cut right to the next branch, without leaving a stub.

In the case of crossing or rubbing branches, decide which of the crossing branches lends best to the overall shape of the tree or shrub and remove the other. Keep in mind branches should grow upwards and outwards for optimal shape.

Heavy snow falls and winter winds can snap even the healthiest of branches. These broken branches should be removed for aesthetic purposes as well as for the continued health of the tree or shrub.

Although it may be difficult to determine if branches are dead or diseased yet, you can mark any suspicious ones for pruning later if this is the case. There is no wrong time to remove dead or diseased branches.

Shaping or Rejuvenating

Trees and shrubs always look nicer and tidier when shaped properly and not overgrown. Now is the time to do this, before new growth begins blurring the shape. This is especially true if you have a hard time cutting out perfectly healthy branches.

Pruning to enhance the shape will encourage and stimulate new growth in spring, which is when you want to encourage new growth. Pruning in fall however, encourages growth when future cold weather could kill it off.

Overgrown shrubs and trees also benefit from drastic rejuvenating this time of year. Again, this is because the new growth that will be stimulated has a better chance of survival heading into spring rather than winter. I have had particular success drastically cutting back overgrown dappled willows and forsythia in my business. Even though forsythia is on the list of shrubs not to trim back early, this one was so overgrown my client just wanted it reduced in size, willing to sacrifice the blooms that year.

Evergreen Trees and Shrubs to Prune now

If removing the lower branches of evergreens in your landscape is something you have been considering, now is the time to do so. This is a great way to drastically change your landscape and even improve the condition of your lawn that tries to grow under them.

Boxwoods, yews, holly and other evergreen shrubs should be trimmed now, while dormant, and before new growth appears.

Spruce and firs can be trimmed back now, but pruning pines should wait until June or July, after their first growth of what are called candles (new shoots at the tips). No earlier and no later. With pines, prune (delay growth) by cutting back the candles by half or remove dead, diseased, broken (or unwanted lower) branches to their main stem.

Shrubs or Trees You Should NOT Prune Now

There are exceptions to the “most trees and shrubs” that benefit from spring pruning. These would be the ones that flower early and prefer pruning after they flower. They include:

  • Lilac
  • forsythia
  • bridle wreath spirea
  • mophead and oakleaf hydrangea
  • spring blooming clematis
  • rhododendrons
  • magnolia
  • wisteria
  • flowering almond
  • mock orange
  • weigela
  • nine barks
  • viburnum
  • witch hazel
  • spring flowering trees like plum, cherry, pear or dogwood

The general rule of thumb is “if it blooms before June, prune after flowering. If it blooms after June, prune in spring.” That is because spring bloomers do so on older (last year’s) wood, while later flowers come from new (spring generated) wood.

Cutting Back Ornamental Grasses and Perennials

If you left your ornamental grasses to sway in the winter winds, cut them back as soon as you can get to them, even if you have to wade through some lingering snow. Ornamental grasses should be cut back to four to six inches from the ground. It is much easier to do this now than to wait until new growth starts when you will have to pick the dead and crispy brown stalks from the tender new green shoots. I did mine a few weeks ago when I was itching to do something garden related.

This applies to other perennials you left over the winter. Bird lovers often leave seed heads and pods for their fine feathered friends to snack on. Some leave perennial stalks for their beauty when covered in snow or some variation in an otherwise bleak-looking winter garden. For whatever reason you have left yours intact, now is the time to cut (snap off) the brown and crispy stalks down to ground level.

Conclusions

For more ideas on what you can tackle in your garden this early, check out last year’s post at this time of year.

I’ve got my ornamental grasses cut back already and my lawn raked and seeded, with edging next on my agenda. Garden cleanups will have to wait a few more weeks.

Retirement Practice AKA a Long Vacation

My husband is on vacation for the next month; this will be a practice run for his looming retirement, so wish me luck. And patience.

I say patience because I have been spoiled. Retiring myself nine years ago from alarm clocks, stress, and strict schedules, my daily routine has evolved into one I am completely comfortable and enamoured with. I have gotten used to picking and choosing what I feel like doing for the day. Or week. Or month. Sounds selfish, I know, but it has been nice. And don’t get me wrong, my hubby is the rock to my kite, still the partner of my dreams, thirty-seven years in.

Last Year at this Time

Last year at this time hubby was off for three weeks, using up vacation time for the fiscal year too, but also planning to retire. With the pandemic just in its onset, although we were not able to travel, we were able to “isolate” to prepare for our granddaughter staying here while her baby brother was born.

Obviously, his retirement didn’t materialize either, another victim of the ever-lasting pandemic.

I also took advantage of my husband’s presence to get a thorough spring cleanup in my own gardens, although I did have to keep nagging him to watch out for still-dormant plants, bees, and other beneficial insects.

Renovation dreams for our cottage and home were put on hold too as supplies were limited. It took the whole summer just to replace the base for our dock, with the dock itself still needing replacement. With most stores closed to the public, we were unable to look at the options for a new one, and unfortunately, a dock is not something easily assessed online.

A Year Later

It is hard to believe one year has passed and we are now entering a second of pandemic restrictions. Everyone is pandemic weary and frustrated. Still not able to travel and still no concrete renovation plans. No new babies (grandchildren) are on the way this year; it now appears that the birth of our grandson last April was the highlight of that year.

Spring Cleaning

Spring is a great time to clean all areas of the house, inside and out. On the list are:

  • garage
  • windows
  • eavestroughs
  • removing Christmas lights
  • powerwashing front veranda and back deck

Garden Chores

Of course, there are garden chores to be shared too, with a few branches of our apple trees on the list for removal. This is the time of year to prune many trees and shrubs, and it looks like I have the manpower to do the job.

It is also a great time of year to edge the gardens if you use a natural, trench method, top-up and amend the soil, divide perennials, add mulch, clean out birdhouses, birdbaths, and the pond, rid the lawn of crabgrass, prepare containers for annuals etc, etc.

Renovations

We have had chats with a neighbour on how they renovated their (identical to ours) ensuite bathroom, so that might encourage my resident DIYer to firm up some plans. He knows I have been dreaming of a bean (freestanding) tub to soak my weary gardener bones in. I would still love to head to the cottage for a month while the work is being done, but I will accept a compromise.

Conclusions

I am looking forward to a loyal companion for my long daily walks, although we would both prefer to be walking on a warm, tropical beach. A brisk walk is great exercise and easy on my aging joints and bones. Remember, sitting is the new smoking, so any form of exercise is a good thing.

I would also like to shop for a small garden shed to fit in the back corner of my yard, something else that is hard to envision online.

Wild Birds Unlimited has moved to our neighbourhood, within walking distance, with visitors now permitted in the store. I have purchased products online since their arrival, with curbside pickups in effect due to pandemic restrictions. I know my husband will love this store as much as I do.

My honey-do and shopping lists continue to grow! Fingers crossed we will get something accomplished this year during our retirement practice.