This winter has been divinely mild, allowing gardeners to work outside on the warmer days. Use this time now to do the following and your garden will respond with vigor when the days get even warmer:
- Mix 50/50 well-rotted, bagged manure and LeafGro compost into the ground (2 inches) around your plants. This combination will rejuvenate your soil, and help your plants become stronger and more floriferous. Don't use around peonies or plants with silvery/blue leaves as they don't like rich soil. And don't let this mixture touch any plant base or stalks. Piling high at the base could burn your plant, cut off oxygen or rot the base.
- Check last year's newly-planted perennials or bushes in your garden beds to see if they have been heaved out of the ground by frost or if your mulch has washed away. Add soil or mulch around any exposed roots; it's best to keep a bag of each in reserve for this purpose.
- Inspect last year's newly-planted trees, shrubs and perennials, looking for when the soil is not frozen (usually around the end of February/beginning of March). These new plants need to be deeply watered once a week for at least a full year after planting—critical to the success of new plantings.
- Scratch in a handful of bone meal on the soil around your herbaceous and tree peonies now so they will bloom better this spring.
- Leave the old stems, seed heads and stalks until April when you do another round of garden clean-up (unless they are diseased--then cut and pitch). Remaining (or partially cut back) stalks result in a 25 percent stronger plant this spring with less dieback because the stalks at the base of the plant hold any snow cover and provide protection from harsh winds. These stalks are also markers as to where not to dig up areas in the spring when you plant new plants! The left-over detritus also provides shelter for birds, and may contain cocoons of praying mantis and butterflies.
- Clean out your bird houses now—before new nests are built by this year's birds; parasites from old nests are the leading cause of death of hatchlings.
- Be sure to float heaters in your pond (to keep an open area in the ice so gases can escape). Merrifield's and Lily Pons in Maryland carry these heaters, it's not too late. Don't bang on the ice if the top is frozen, the sound waves injure or kill the fish.
- Weed any time you are out in your garden, especially the low, white-flowering bittercress which is blooming now; it has seed pods which explode six feet out if you let it develop that far!
- Get all your inside seeds ordered and prepare to start them on March 20th (two months before transplanting outside).
Nancy Burns is a certified Master Gardener, Belle Haven Garden Club President for the past six years, co-author of two award-winning gardening books, member of the Landscape Designers' Group and the Landscape Design Council as well as being completely fascinated with plants and gardening as well as their surrounding landscape design.