It’s Been a Weird Winter, but Patience Still Pays

A strange winter (can we even call it that?) is now gearing up for what might be a very early spring. Understandably, many gardeners are wondering how to respond to this weather. For the most part, the usual advice to be patient and let the garden wake up before meddling too much remains true. False starts and early warm days often lure our eager hands into the garden a bit too soon, and even though it is warmer than usual, it would be wise to resist the temptation to declare winter over. Many plants and pollinators are still very much asleep.

The Unusual

Though much of the usual advice still applies (and we will cover the usual advice below), there are some differences this year that are worth noting. The freakishly warm winter temperatures combined with a stark lack of precipitation have many folks concerned about when to start watering. Indeed, plants may break dormancy earlier than usual and the ground may thaw early. Our advice is to be attentive and follow the cues your plants give you.

When you notice buds swelling and greening and active growth resuming, your plants will begin taking up water and you can give them a drink. A thorough watering of established plants is probably a good idea after such a dry winter, especially if the soil in a particular area seems quite parched.  Ideally, spring rains will help out soon. Newer plantings should be watered regularly once they resume active growth. If the soil is still frozen and plants dormant, such as in very shaded and cool areas, you don’t need to water yet.

The Usual

Delay spring cleanup as long as you can. Leave mulch, leaf litter, and spent foliage in place until temperatures are consistently in the 50s at night. This extra layer of insulation helps buffer our landscapes against the negative effects of wildly fluctuating temperatures- particularly during unpredictable weather like we are currently experiencing. Our plants and the many pollinators and invertebrates that rely on this protection will fare much better if they remain undisturbed.

Now is the time to prune most trees and shrubs. It’s much easier to assess the structure of your woody landscape plants when they are leafless and it’s best to complete any major pruning when plants are dormant to avoid exposure to pests and diseases. As always, use clean, sharp tools for pruning and do not apply anything to the pruning cuts.

Start planning. What works or doesn’t work in your landscape? Where could you use a tree or shrub for structure or shade? What color scheme will you focus on for this year’s annual plantings? What vegetables will you grow this summer? Do you need to get your seed starting materials together? How much mulch or potting soil will you need?

It’s also a good time to clean and repair your gardening tools, sharpen pruners, pick up trash or debris that has blown into your yard, and organize garden sheds or buildings. Take a look at your pots and garden decor and pass along the things that no longer inspire you and dispose of items that are damaged beyond repair. 

Most importantly, keep calm and garden on.