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The days are growing a bit longer

Winter is still holding on so there is still time to finish a few winter chores. Dormant (but not for long) trees and shrubs can be pruned. Fruit trees should be pruned of last year’s water sprouts (vertical, unbranched stems) and shrubs like yew, juniper and arborvitae can have last years late growth trimmed to keep them shaped the way you want. Do not prune spring flowering shrubs although you can cut some branches for forcing. I have pussywillow in a vase that was cut a couple of weeks ago and it’s lovely. Forsythia looks ready for forcing too.

We have all noticed daffodil, crocus, and tulip leaves poking up. If you have spring bulbs planted but have not seen leaves emerging, make sure they are not matted down by leaves. I was sort of cleaning up a front bed, cutting purple cone flower stems that had been left for the birds, and moved some dead leaves to discover green daffodil leaves trying to get through. That prompted a raking of leaves, which I had been putting off, uncovering crocus, columbine, and lungwort ready for spring. Since there is still some winter ahead I plan to leave the dead leaves as insulation until later in areas without spring bulbs.

Other late winter cleanup jobs include cutting sedum stalks, ornamental grasses, and other herbaceous perennials like bee balm, milkweed, and peony if you haven’t already. The first year’s growth of woody stems is also more obvious now than before they are masked by the lush growth of spring. Woody stems like the oak trees planted by squirrels in my flower beds, also mulberry, elm, maple, and ash. The right way to do it is to cut the woody stem near its base then treat with an herbicide or it will resprout. I will wait for a nice day to tackle this tedious job.

My friend Janet DelTurco has already started germinating some seeds. She will transplant them into larger containers, then later transplant to the garden. Check your seed packets and a calendar. It is early March, technically the last frost date in our area is May 11-20. I start tomatoes and peppers from seed and transplant into the garden, both say to start indoors about 5-7 weeks before last frost which will be late March to early April. Janet does an extra transplant step that I don’t so she can start earlier and probably have more robust plants to put in the ground in May. Last year I experimented with starting many plants from seed in the spring then transplanting but found that many, like larkspur and balloon flower, did better with direct sowing into the soil after the last frost time. There are fewer tomato and pepper plants to grow so I will continue to start them indoors then transplant outdoors later. Of course this all can be avoided if you just buy the plants you want at a greenhouse or nursery at a time that is convenient for you. More about planting seeds next time. Let’s hope we ease into spring without any late killing frosts. Enjoy the longer days.

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