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By Lyn Chimera

After this mild and roller coaster winter, we made it to April! Hopefully we’ll have some consistent spring weather. (I’m writing this mid-March during the Nor’easter that’s going through so spring seems very far away.) As I sit here I’m thinking of all my snowdrops that are now buried in snow! Not to worry, spring bulbs have their own antifreeze and will be fine.

Many of you probably did some yard clean up during the spring like weeks in Feb. and March. Hopefully it was a good lesson in not doing too much too soon. A few warm days are not the same as extended spring weather. While we have no idea what April will turn out to be like, be mindful of what you do in outside.

Even if there is still snow on the ground you can prune. Look for dead or damaged branches and remove them. If you’re not sure if a branch is dead, scrape along the bark with your fingernail or a knife. If there is green under the bark the branch is alive, if it’s brown it’s dead. With any pruning be sure to make the cut without leaving a stub. It’s best to prune most trees and shrubs in early spring before the buds start opening. The exceptions to this are any spring blooming trees and shrubs like lilac, rhododendron and forsythia. Those plants have already set their blossom buds and pruning them now will remove the blooms for this year. If you have any specific questions about how to prune a certain tree or shrub, call for a pruning consult. I can show you pruning techniques so you can do it yourself in the future.

Picking up sticks, downed branches and other winter debris is a good chore for early spring. Just be mindful of walking on the ground when it is soft and wet. If you leave a footprint stay off the ground and just work from where you can reach from paths or walkways. Walking on the soft soil causes compaction which squeezes the air spaces out of the soil and makes it difficult for roots to grow and water to percolate through. This is why plants don’t grow on paths. The soil is so compacted it’s like a brick and nothing will grow. Obviously a few footsteps won’t cause such severe damage but it’s best to wait.

Cutting back perennials that were left up over the winter is another good chore for early spring. Many perennials will have a crown of leaves at the base of last year’s stems. Be careful not to cut these leaves, just cut the stem at the base.

Moving and dividing perennials will depend on the weather. Wait until the soil temperature is above 50 degrees and it’s not too wet. If you squeeze a fist full of soil into a ball and it stays in that shape, it’s too wet. It should break apart easily after you open your hand. If you have a soil thermometer that’s ideal. If not just feel the soil with your hand. If it feels like ambient temperature that’s good. If it’s cold wait. Watch for the long range weather forecast and wait until it’s consistently warm.

Since it was so spring like during some of the winter people are anxious to start gardening and planting. DON’T DO TOO MUCH TOO SOON! Tomatoes and some other tender annuals shouldn’t be planted until LATE May. Studies have shown that tomato plants planted when the soil is too cold don’t grow as well or are not as productive as ones put in later when the conditions are optimal.

Cleaning and preparing your garden tools is a great chore that isn’t weather dependent. If your pruners or loppers stick shut between cuts or are rusty, they can be cleaned easily with a little fine steel wool. This is easier to do if the pruners come apart easily. If not just do the best you can. Hardware stores sell a product that will help dissolve the “gunk”. After you clean the tools sharpen them with a sharpening tool available anyplace that sells gardening tools. Trust me, this really works! Once you’re on a roll cleaning pruners, try steel wooling the rust off your shovels AND sharpening them (with the same tool). It’s amazing what a difference a sharp tool makes!

Happy Gardening!