By: Lyn Chimera
Special to the OBSERVER
The glaciers are receding and it looks like spring will finally arrive. We've all been waiting for this, but keep in mind, it's only the end of March and there's a lot of time before planting. The biggest mistake gardeners make is doing too much too soon. The following are some tips.
If your soil is still soft and wet don't be tempted to work in the garden or walk on the lawn. If you leave a footprint, the soil is too wet and you will compact it. So why is compaction a problem? Soft soil is easily compressed which forces out the spaces between soil particles that roots need to grow and water needs to penetrate the soil. Reaching gardens through a path or walkway is a good solution.
There is no way of telling how soon the soil will warm up. It all depends on the weather. Soil should be 50 degrees before you start planting and that could take a while after this winter.
Personally, I'm not removing any winter mulch, pine boughs or protective shrub coats until the overnight temps are consistently well above freezing. Studies show that seeds started too early or plants planted when the soil is too cold (below 50 degrees) do not do as well. As for the protective mulch; keeping it on protects the soil around those plants and prevents the soil from thawing out too quickly and then possibly re-freezing which causes heaving.
One thing this weather is perfect for is pruning.
Cut back grasses left up over the winter being careful not to damage new shoots coming up.
Trim back perennials or other dead plant material. It's not going to hurt anything to leave these up if the soil is still soft. Last year's spent foliage actually helps protect the crown from fluctuating temperatures.
Prune any shrubs and trees that don't blossom in the spring. It is ideal to prune before the new buds break out and start growing. Remove dead or damaged branches first then assess what further pruning might be warranted.
If you would like a pruning consult just contact me. I can show you how to prune properly so you can do it yourself in the future.
If you haven't cleaned and sharpened your tools since last season, now is the time.
While we may not be able to plant yet, we can get a few chores done to get a step or two closer.
Lyn Chimera is a Master Gardener for Cornell University Cooperative Extension