Ready, Set, Dig...

The signs are everywhere, Old man winter is finally on his way out! Northeast gardeners have been holding their breath waiting for Spring. You can almost hear the collective exhale of relief as huge snow piles have finally begun to melt, the days are getting brighter, temperatures are gradually climbing, and birdsong is once again the first thing you hear in the morning. After the pummeling we've taken this season, Spring will be especially sweet.

While some folks are hesitant to say winter is coming to a close, the signs contradict the naysayers. One of the major signs that the garden savvy look for is rising night time temperatures and temperature variance.

Pro-Tip: Plants begin to break dormancy when the soil temperature reaches 37 degrees. Optimal plant growth is achieved when the day time temperature is 10 - 15 degrees higher than the night time temperatures.

That temperature pattern is just beginning to emerge. I am probably seeing things but my Roses, planted in a warm microclimate, seem to have canes which are already greening up.

If thermometer watching isn't your thing, look for the blooming of Forsythia which coincides with soil temperatures of 55 degrees.

If the current weather pattern holds, we've probably got two weeks left before we need to do all the groovy Spring preparation tasks that will get your garden off to a great start this season.


Pro-Tip: Choose a mulch that accentuates your garden and your home. Cedar mulch, most commonly used, is dyed Black, Brown, or Red, but fades fast in the sun. Black makes greens pop but is a misery under plants which shed because it must be cleaned regularly to be kept pristine. Red is great but should be triple dyed and high quality to avoid that "kiddish look". Do avoid putting red mulch in front of a red house as it does nothing for the aesthetic. Try Pine Bark Mulch for woodland and Japanese gardens. It's more expensive but it lasts longer, has a high nutrient content and provides a wonderful contrast to fine textured plants. Hemlock is the most expensive mulch. If it's in your budget, it is certainly worth a try, as it's a wonderful deep reddish-brown color that retains it's color and is high in nutrients.

Ready, Set, Dig: It's the perfect time to drag out your tools and get them cleaned and sharpened. Better still, evaluate your tools, discard old ones and stock up on new ones. Garden tools are already in stock at the Home Improvement giants, or you can pick your poison from one of the many garden catalogs that have begun arriving in your mailbox.

Clean Me: One of the side effects of this brutal winter is a messy garden. As soon as the snow has melted, and the earth has dried out a bit, you will need to clean out your garden beds, remove spent annuals and cutback any Perennials left standing from last Fall. It's also a perfect time to see what damage winter may have wrought. Expect shrub damage from heavy snow loads for more fragile, or newly planted specimens and make a list of replacements.

Assess: You should also assess the trees in your yard for any signs of damage or weak limbs. If you need a professional, book early as they too will likely have a heavier load than normal due to winter damage.

A Well Shaped Plant: is worth it's weight in gold. Few things make a garden look less inviting than overgrown plants. A well shaped shrub/hedge gives a garden structure and serves as the backdrop to your colorful perennials. All they ask in return is an annual haircut.

Pruning should be done for a host of reasons: Removing dead, or damaged limbs, controlling the size of a shrub, to improve air circulation and increase vigor. So, never be afraid to prune. If you're unsure, always research before pruning as some shrubs should only be cut at certain times of the year to avoid loss of blooms, or may be slow to recover if cut at the wrong time. Here's a handy guide by BHG to get you started.

Get the Skinny: A garden is always greatly improved by soil quality which is why you should have your soil tested every three years. Many plant growth and weed issues can be minimized by having a healthy soil web. To get the best results, you should have a laboratory soil test done.

They are easy to do and contain a wealth of information. In fact, soil tests can save you money as they come with recommendations and you'll know where to concentrate your efforts. Check with your local cooperative extension, garden center or landscaping professional for assistance. Rutgers has a top notch soil laboratory which we highly recommend.

Feed Me!: We all want a low maintenance garden but some plants are just plain high maintenance. Turfgrass is one of them. Whether you elect to go organic, or you use traditional fertilizers, timing and amounts can leave you scratching your head. A soil test can help with that and also give you a better handle on the all important PH of your soil which is directly related to plant growth.

Some of our most glorious plants, like Roses, Peonies and annuals, are heavy feeders. If you establish a regular schedule of feeding your garden will reward you with glorious blooms all season long. While your at it, you can apply lime to the lawn, change the color of your hydrangeas, amend your perennial beds with compost, top dress the lawn with compost annually and feed acid loving shrubs like Azaleas, Rhododendrons and the like.

Weeds Begone: Mulching is one of the best garden practices you can adopt. Not only does it dresses up your house, it accents the plants, feeds your soil, regulates soil temperature, increases water retention and diminishes weeds.

All you need is 3" - 4" of quality mulch applied at the top of the season and you can spend less time fighting with weeds and more time enjoying your beds.

Pretty Plants: All perennials require division at some point. When they start to flop, break out of their boundaries, or have reduced blooming, the time has come to drag out your handy tools and...GET MORE PLANTS.

It is one of the most overlooked garden tasks and one that reaps it's benefits many times over. If you've missed the boat, it's never too late to start, check out Fine Gardening's article which gives you the low down on timing and technique.

Questions? Email us at

Think Spring!!