Spring is finally here, according to the calendar. Thankfully, most of the snow has gone and the long-range forecast is moving slowly in the right direction.
The landscape is tinted a muted brown, broken only by the evidence of unfinished fall cleanup and debris accumulated over the winter, revealed by the melted snow. The earliest of bulbs are timid and small, but I find them — bright, yellow winter aconites and pendant snowdrops. The subtle blooms of witch hazel are in their glory, but only noticeable on deliberate inspection. The showier spring flowers will come soon, but for now we wait.
Robins are back and hopping happily around on the dead-looking lawn. I’ve heard the call of the red-winged blackbird, and seen the flash of his red epaulets. I’m still waiting for the true harbinger of spring, the spring peeper.
And there are a few productive things we can do outdoors on a mild afternoon.
Take a walk about and pick up branches and twigs fallen from winter storms. Smaller twigs make excellent tinder and larger branches can be cut to length and added to the woodpile, ideal for the fireplace, indoors or out.
While gathering, use the opportunity to pick up bits of litter and trash that have blown in over the course of the winter, easily spotted now before plants begin to leaf out. I’ll empty my pots stuffed with evergreens, once festive but now looking tired and bedraggled. The goats enjoy the boughs.
Tread lightly in planting areas; avoid stepping in if the ground is soft enough to leave a footprint that is more than a few tread marks. Wet soils, especially clay, are easily compacted, which damages plant roots and makes the ground generally a less healthy environment for plants.
Rake any accumulated leaves from lawn areas to keep them from damaging the turf grass. Also check any flowerbeds that are packed with last fall’s leaves — if the leaves have formed a thick, wet mat you’ll want to gently rake to fluff things up and allow a good exchange of moisture and air.
This helps prevent smothering or distorted growth on perennials or bulbs that are trying to emerge. Resist the temptation to rake vigorously and clean down to bare soil, however, as that loose mulch will protect any tender new growth against the inevitable frosts and freezes still ahead.
Inspect the lawn for gravel from the driveway or shoulder of the road thrown by winter’s snow removal efforts. Rake it back to where it belongs. Once the grass finally starts to green up, you’ll be ready to mow.
Tune up the lawnmower, rotary tiller and any other gasoline powered garden tools that you’ll want primed and ready. Spring is such a busy time; you won’t want to lose a Saturday’s worth of progress to an unplanned repair project.
Since new plant growth hasn’t started, it is an excellent time to prune trees and shrubs to improve their shape, reduce size or open up the canopy to reduce the shade they cast and allow good light penetration to the rest of the plant. Cut away any damaged branches or those that are rubbing together.
Wait, however, to do any serious pruning on ornamental spring flowering trees or shrubs. Might as well enjoy the flower display first, but prune soon afterward so the resulting new growth will have a full summer season to develop next spring’s flower buds.
At the least, a casual stroll through the still-sleeping landscape should get your project list started.