When the sun shines brightly and warmly in early spring, it feels good to get out and ready the garden for springtime bloom. Begin by removing any broken, damaged or weakened branches from your shrubs and start pruning the deciduous, summer-flowering shrubs. Be sure to check beds and borders for any perennials that might have been lifted out of the ground through bouts of freeze and thaw. Gently but firmly press them back into the ground, and re-cover with mulch or other suitable protection such as leaves from the compost heap.
If you neglected to fertilize evergreens and shrubs last fall, now is the time. Use an appropriate fertilizer for the acid lovers and an all-purpose fertilizer for the deciduous shrubs and roses. Your local garden center will have a range of fertilizers from which to choose. Always follow the label instructions for the correct measures and amounts. A good fertilizer is rather like a vitamin supplement, as it replenishes nutrients that are lacking in your soil. Depending on your soil, established plants may do well without chemicals, manufactured or natural, but a little insurance might help.
Do not be tempted to remove winter mulch from perennials too soon, as it is important to wait until they are showing signs of growth. Freezing temperatures and chilling winds are still very much a factor in the spring. Once new growth is vigorous, gently uncover your plants. This is a good time to divide and transplant summer blooming perennials. A light application of fertilizer on the established planting would also be a good idea.
Where would we be without bulbs, our stars of the season? What an appropriate name for the group that lights up our landscapes after the dark gloom of winter. It is truly a pleasure to watch the innocent Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) braving the icy chill in late winter and Dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata) standing soldier-like. The narcissi announce the coming of spring with their bold trumpets, and one can only marvel at all of the exotic-colored tulips which prepare us for the vibrant colors of summer. Other interesting bulb choices, which are also deer and rodent resistant, include Snake’s Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris), with its curiously checkered petals in plum colors or white. Its cousin, the Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), has a stout stem which holds aloft a stunning crown of brilliantly colored flowers topped by a leafy green crown. Other lovely bulbs include a miniature form of Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum balansae), and Glory-of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa forbesii).
In order to promote more blossoms, deadheading, or removal of the spent blooms, is a good idea, otherwise the plant’s energy goes into producing seed. A quick way to do this is to pinch off the dead flower with your fingers. Use a pruner to remove the entire stem.
Tulips tend to be somewhat short-lived in that they may not return after a few seasons, but narcissi, jonquils, and a host of other bulbs will naturalize and persist quite happily for years. Perhaps this is a good thing, so one does not tire of the same tulip colors year after year. Rather than go through the effort of planting tulip bulbs in-ground each year and then digging them up or leaving stragglers of colors, plant them in pots which have been overwintered with protection outside. One way to do this is to tuck the pots into a corner of the garden and cover them all around with hay bales or fallen leaves. You can also plunge the pots partway into the ground and then cover the pot with mulch. The goal is to create a similar temperature to what the bulbs would have in ground - very cold, but not freezing. When the weather warms, move the pots to various locations such as bare patches in beds or borders, the patio or the front door and enjoy the color selection for the season.