Give your plants a physical checkup before spring arrives

Crabapple branches are laden with snow after a spring storm. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/The Journal

Crabapple branches are laden with snow after a spring storm.

This is my last gardening column for the winter. Even though spring won’t officially arrive for a while, as soon as the calendar page gets flipped to March, my internal clock says “Spring!”

We’ll be planting hanging baskets this week, and the first perennials have gone into the ground at the garden center. But for now, it’s still February and the snow is still flying. So what is there to do for your garden? The simple answer is – lots!

First, some outdoor maintenance is in order. Be sure to knock the snow off those evergreens, trees and other shrubs that need it when we have storms. The weight of the recent moisture-laden snows that we have had has bent many plants in the area to the ground. If the snow has caused breakage, prune the damaged branches back now. It’s better to get them off than to let them cause further damage. You can also thin out old, overgrown shrubs during the late winter. Late February or early March is the best time to prune because the plants are dormant, and it will encourage healthier and better-looking shrubs in the spring as they begin to grow. Vines that bear fruit can be pruned too. Prune back by as much as half their length and try to do it on a day when temperatures are above 32 degrees.

Check your perennials and bulbs for frost heaves – if the plants or bulbs have heaved out of the ground, gently replace or replant them. You might also want to check for the first blooms of spring. Crocus and daffodils are already popping in some protected areas in my yard. Also check your stored bulbs again this month. Discard any that have begun to rot.

When thinking about your landscaping plans for spring, especially if you are planning to re-do your landscaping or remove or replace some of it, try to incorporate your lifestyle and home into your plans. So often landscaping is planned only from the perspective of a passerby, but your landscaping should be pleasing to those inside your home as well. Why look at the back of a shrub or hedge when sitting in your living room? Think about planting some bulbs, annuals or perennials on the inside of your foundation shrubbery if there is room, as well as on the outside, if you have windows or patio doors that view onto that area. They will thrive in the protected space and you will get the added bonus of seeing the first blooms of spring earlier and from the comfort of your home.

Begin to think about starting any seeds indoors that you wish to have ready to transplant outside early in the season. Peppers take the longest and should be started soon, but other seeds can wait for a bit. Six to eight weeks before planting date outside is plenty of time and a cold frame is a great way to extend your growing season. These can be easily and inexpensively built and will protect your seeds and tender plants and can also be used to force bulbs and harden off your seedlings later in the season.

If you have a vegetable garden, why not try one new variety this year? Why not plant something you’ve never planted before or something you’ve never cooked or even eaten before? Each year, there are new varieties introduced, some of which are quickly become gardening standards based on their performance in the garden. Check your local garden center for either the seeds to start now, or the seedlings closer to planting time. You might be surprised and like the new variety better than what you have been growing all along! Some are just unusual and fun to try, especially if you have children. For a minimal investment into the plants or seeds, you may find something that becomes a family favorite.

Use these last snowy of winter to make your spring gardening plans. Warm weather will be here before you know it and it will once again be time to dig in the dirt. With the abundance of water this year, it’s going to be a great gardening season!

Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at