By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
With the unusual warm weather, all of the snow gone, and the lake ice starting to break up, many people are itching to get outside and start gardening.
I also share the enthusiasm for the extraordinary weather, but you have to be careful not to get ahead of yourself with the garden chores.
Remember, it is still March and where we live, there is still a chance of a cold spell, snowstorm, and frost until well into May.
Most people believe it is a harsh winter that kills off perennials and trees and shrubs, but often it is the ever-changing spring weather that causes more damage.
It is the cycle of warm and cold spells that lure the plants into waking up because they think it is spring, then a cold spell freezes the new growth and kills the plant.
Although I encourage you to enjoy the warm spring weather and get some yard and garden chores off the to-do list early, there certainly are some do’s and don’ts for this time of year.
Take down any snow fencing you may have erected to protect your yard.
Clean out your eavestroughing to ensure there aren’t any branches, needles, or leaves built up in them, especially before heavy spring rains start.
Pick up any trash in your yard that has been revealed now that the snow is gone. That also goes for cleaning up any pet feces, ensuring that you follow the proper disposal procedure for your municipality.
Remove any composted material from your composter and apply to your garden where needed.
Rake away any leaves or pine needles and cones that fell over the winter or you missed last fall. Be careful when raking, though, as you only are trying to gather up the debris, not rake the lawn at this point.
You also can do this in the garden if necessary, but be careful not to disturb any protective mulches of tender new growth.
You can cut back any dead perennial leaves and stalks you didn’t get to last fall before it snowed. Just remember you only are cleaning up what you missed last fall, not pruning or starting spring work yet.
Any washing jobs like windows, decks, patio furniture, etc., making sure you put the hose away in a heated place after each use so it doesn’t freeze overnight.
Get your container gardens in shape by removing any debris and refilling with fresh soil as needed.
If the warm spell continues without significant rainfall, you may have to do some supplemental watering once you start to see green growth coming through.
Remember, we were in drought conditions last fall and had very little snowfall over the winter, most of which evaporated and did not soak into the ground, so the soil is going to be very dry.
Supplemental watering this spring may be the key to a successful garden so keep an eye on soil moisture.
Go ahead if you can and edge your gardens and walks, or remove sod for a new garden area.
As long as the ground isn’t frozen, this job may be easier before the roots of the lawn start to grow and set.
Do not remove any of the winter protection (i.e., burlap, etc.) you may have applied to your trees and shrubs. It is too early, especially when our days are so warm and the nights return to freezing.
Do not remove any of the protective mulch you applied to your perennials last fall. It is too early even if there is new growth poking through the mulch.
If you have any extra mulch, I recommend adding some more for a few weeks to protect that new growth.
Do not rake the lawn. You should not rake the lawn until all of the frost is out of the ground and the lawn is starting to green up.
Do not prune any trees or shrubs–it is way too early. Pruning of trees should not take place until the first leaves emerge (you want the tree to be in an active growing state before you prune so the tree has the ability to seal and repair the wound).
Do feel free to cut any broken hanging branches to prevent them from ripping off in a wind storm and causing way more damage. Once the tree leafs out, you can go back and prune the broken branch properly.
It is most important to just remove anything that is hanging and could cause more damage.
It is too early to erect sunshades and tent gazebos as we could still get a good snowfall, and these structures cannot support snow on their roofs.
Don’t till the vegetable garden until it is completely thawed and the frost is out of the ground. We may be close but it is still a bit early.
You want the tiller to be able to get to the proper depth to really work the soil.
We all know that the past few weeks have been a real treat and we all are anxious to get summer underway, but remember it is still March and in the past, April sometimes has resembled winter more than March or February.
If you take on some of the chores listed above, you can get a jump on the summer work but just don’t get ahead of yourself.