The hardest part about gardening in New England is being patient. Despite the calendar telling us that spring arrives March 21st, we are often still blanketed by snow and the spring thaw often takes much longer to arrive. From the comfort of our living rooms, we can welcome the arrival of spring with a few doses of color from fresh flowers and potted plants. And until you can get your hands into the warm soil again, take this time for good garden planning.
Forcing branches is a great way to bring a touch of spring to our indoor spaces. The easiest spring flowering branches to force are forsythia and pussy willow. For the best color, cut branches that have the most buds. Bring indoors and recut the stem before placing in warm water. Change the water every few days to keep it clear of bacteria. Forsythia and pussy willow should bloom after about 1 week. Other flowering shrubs and trees, such as quince, crabapple and cherry can also be forced, but they can take up to 4 weeks to bloom. The Old Farmer’s Almanac provides a handy chart on how long it takes for some of these branches to blossom.
If you missed planting bulbs in your garden, like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths back in the fall, you can still enjoy their beautiful blooms. Potted bulb plants are readily available at your local florist or garden center. Caring for these harbingers of spring is relatively easy. To prolong their bloom time, keep the soil evenly moist. At night time place them someplace cool but above freezing, a basement or garage work well. When the ground thaws, you can plant crocus and daffodils outdoors in the garden for blooms next year.
The days are getting longer and you may begin to notice new growth on your houseplants. This is the best time to consider re-potting houseplants that have outgrown their current pot. If you find that the plant is constantly dry, it is a good sign that it needs a larger pot. Always choose a pot that is 2 inches larger than the current pot in diameter, but not more than 2 inches. Choosing a pot that is too large can lead to excess moisture and root rot. Or if your plants have just gotten a little too stretch and leggy this is a good time of year to trim them back. They will reward you with new growth and a bushier habit.
The ideal time to prune most fruit trees, blueberry bushes and many other deciduous shrubs is before the buds begin to swell in the spring. Depending on the winter this may be at the end of February or early March. Careful pruning promotes healthy growth in the spring. Fruit trees will reward you with better fruit and higher yields with proper pruning. Pruning should always maintain the natural shape of the plant. For example, it is not recommended to prune in order to force a naturally tall shrub shorter. Work slowly and take time to step back and view the plant from all sides, if possible, as you prune. Use sharp hand tools to prevent damage to the plant. Consult your local garden center, tree service contractor or your local Cooperative Extension office for the best expert information.
As we long for the arrival of warmer weather, now is also a great time to think about last year’s garden and what grew well and what didn’t. Are you planning a vegetable garden or to add on to an existing flower garden? Visit your local garden center for ideas about new varieties in perennials and annuals. Browse the available seeds for vegetables and flowers. While it is still too early to start vegetable seeds indoors, you can start to select varieties you know you want to grow this year.
My Pro Tip:
To keep those idle hands busy during these last few weeks of winter, create a scout book. Scour those garden catalogs and magazines for must have additions to your garden this year, cut them out and paste the images in an old note book. When spring arrives, you’ll have a log of all the plants you dreamed of adding that you can take along on your trip to the garden center and you’ll know exactly what you are looking for. This makes a fun activity for kids too! They can dream up their own space, you’ll encourage them to get outside with you and make trips to the garden center like a treasure hunt.