In one week it will officially be spring…..though in most parts of Canada it feels like spring has been with us off and on all winter (I am told the apple trees have already blossomed in Vancouver!). For the first time, some species of migratory birds, never even bothered to leave and the Great Lakes did not freeze over. The attraction will be strong for hard-core gardeners to get back into the dirt weeks ahead of time.
But not so fast! It may be tempting to unwrap your delicate shrubs and plants and remove any protective mulch you put in place last autumn. My plants and trees (Montreal, Planting Zone 5A) are indeed budding but another hard frost could very likely come along (and last a few days) which will do even more harm to plants that should still be in dormancy. You can loosen and open up some of the wrapping (I did this on my newly planted Boxwood and Japanese maple yesterday) but have left the protective fabric still loosely on the stakes just in case I have to close it up again.
· Begin by giving all your gardening tools a good cleaning and oiling (if you didn’t before you put them away last year).
· Clean up any debris and broken branches that have surfaced over the winter. Inspect your plants for any signs of damage from snow, freezing rain and winds and prune accordingly.
· At the same time, have a good look at the dormant landscape and see if you need to add/remove any shrubs or perennials. Make a list to bring with you to the nursery so you don’t make any unnecessary or spontaneous purchases. (Almost every year I am lured in by the ‘latest’ - and usually overpriced – variety in some perennial that I have no room for!)
· Some of your shrubs may be overgrown and need to be re-shaped or heavily pruned. As well, your perennials may need to be divided and re-planted. ( See our past article Spring Clean-Up for more detailed information on how and when to do this.)
· Be very careful NOT to tread on soggy soil or grass as this will compact the soil and kill your grass. Give your beds and lawns time to dry out from the winter. The ideal soil has a fluffy texture which will allow for good aeration and drainage.
· If you have any seeds you have purchased, start them indoors (if you have the proper space and light). Apparently, the number one reason people fail when starting their plants from seed, is they plant too early. Make sure you read the instructions on the package and don’t be fooled by the early start to spring. Victoria Day weekend (at least in Eastern and Central Canada) is still the standard for planting more delicate plants and annuals.
· On the other hand, most trees and shrubs actually benefit when they are planted a bit earlier and have time to adapt before the warmer weather really begins. They are usually much larger with a more mature root system so if they are on your list, early in the spring is the ideal time for planting.