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Preparing the garden for spring

Spring is here! After a long, colorless season, nothing soothes the soul like seeing green again. And then there’s the excitement of seeing living things poke through the ground.

Although it maybe tempting to jump right in and give the garden a work over, there are a few things to know before starting.

One of the quickest ways to welcome spring is by clearing away leaves and debris left over from the previous season. Gently using a rake with flexible metal tines will ensure that no fresh young growth is damaged.

If the soil is still too wet, it’s best to save any transplanting or dividing for when the soil dries out a bit. It can be moist and hold its shape when squeezed in your hand, but still crumble and break apart. When the soil is ready, working in sphagnum moss will help lighten and balance the pH of our heavy clay and alkaline soils by adding organic matter and acid.

Forsythia, with its early yellow brilliance, is one of the first shrubs to come into bloom. As soon as the flowers fade and foliage appears, it’s the perfect time to prune. Removing any old, non-productive branches at the base of the plant and trimming it back a bit is all you will need to do for the rest of the season.

Forsythia, like lilacs, viburnum and rhododendrons, bloom on growth that was formed during the previous year. Pruning any once-blooming shrub before it blossoms will only be removing flowering wood for this season. Pruning after they flower is best. What can be pruned now are ever-blooming roses, clematis and evergreens. Asian and oriental lily bulbs can be planted as soon as they are available. Now is also a good time to jump-start seeds indoors

Flowering bulbs give us such early color. Crocus, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are an invaluable part of the spring garden. As the flowers fade, it’s important not to cut the foliage back. Letting the foliage turn yellow and die back on its own will produce food for the bulb to flower next year. Tying the foliage up in bunches, using twine or a rubber band, will help keep it tucked away and out of sight while other plants take the center stage.

Resist the temptation to plant tender annuals before Memorial Day. Although nurseries are already flooded with flowering annuals, frosts in May are not uncommon. Pansies and primroses are two plants that can handle light frosts and be put in the ground early, but it’s best to wait to plant the rest. If it turns cold and wet, young plants can actually rot.

The spring garden is fresh and new and full of potential. It’s an exciting time for gardeners. Following a few simple guidelines will make the most of it and set the garden up for a long, glorious season of color and fragrance.

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