All based on my Zone 5B Berkshire MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly.
NEW BEGINNINGS, ALMOST: The last bit of winter’s the hardest, to my mind, with patience wearing thin (wish the ice would wear thin, instead). Getting ready for seed-starting action provides a distraction, and one could always order a few more packets to soothe the soul. My list of favorite sources is in the right-hand sidebar of every page here. Did you do your germination testing yet to see what leftovers are still viable?
Or try this escape: Force branches of spring-blooming shrubs and trees like pussy willow, forsythia, apple and cherry once buds have begun to swell. Cut on an angle and put indoors in water. I submerge them overnight, then place them in a bucket of water in my mudroom, draped with a plastic bag, until the buds push off their coverings. The closer to actual bloom date you try to force things, the higher the success rate (no big surprise).
Take a walkabout: Check to see if mulches are in place or if they’ve heaved, or if burlap and other protectors have come loose, exposing vulnerable plants to possible damage.
Position your seed-shopping easy chair to point out the window, where there are still perhaps some riches: berries, bark, new birds. Did you submit your findings these last weeks to
Mole patrol continues, in perpetuity: I am still setting out mousetraps under boxes, buckets or cans in the gardens where I see any activity, to rid them from my beds and borders.
SEEDS & VEGETABLES
STIFLE THE URGE to start vegetable seedlings too early. Small, compact seedlings are better than older, leggy ones when the time comes for transplanting. Only leeks and onions should be started indoors this early.
IF YOU HAVE a cold frame, sow an early crop of spinach and lettuce in it. In fact, you can start spinach in the open ground if snow has melted.
PREVENT DAMPING OFF, a fungal disease that kills seedlings, by starting with clean containers and sterile soilless mix each year. Wash previously used flats, cell packs or pots this month with a 1:10 solution of bleach and water, to prepare for use.
HOUSEPLANTS ARE AWAKE again, nudged by longer days and stronger late-winter light. They will need more moisture and an occasional fertilizing.
KEEP AN EYE OUT for signs of houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. If tackled before they get out of hand, nonchemical methods are usually successful: a simple shower, insecticidal soap spray (as directed on label) or with the most tenacious (like mealybugs) sometimes an alcohol swab and Q-tip. Overwatering is the biggest risk to houseplants in winter…go easy.
TREES & SHRUBS
PRUNE GRAPE VINES to no more than four fruiting canes with 7 to 10 buds apiece.
PRIME PRUNING TIME for deciduous trees and shrubs (including fruit trees) is right now, while they are dormant. Don’t paint the wounds—let them heal naturally. Always use sharp tools to make clean cuts, and be on the lookout for dead, damaged, or diseased wood and prune out as discovered. This is especially important in winter’s harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary extra damage. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too.
DID YOU CLEAR TURF OR WEEDS from the area right around the trunks of fruit trees and ornamentals to reduce winter damage by rodents? Hardware cloth collars should be in place year-round as well.