No, the crocuses aren’t up yet, even in the warmest spots in my garden, but they should be very soon–I can see the first shoots right now out the window. (This picture was taken on March 11 last year.) But even though spring is a bit late, its arrival is unmistakeable. The sun is so strong that snow was melting in sunny spots even when the temperature was still below freezing. Robins are back. At this moment, I am watching a blue jay in the holly tree perform a little dance, a repeated hop accompanied each time by a soft call, a descending minor third. A mating dance perhaps? Within the next week the snow should be gone and we should be seeing a great deal of bird activity. And although it’s too early to plant, there are lots of chores you could be getting out of way to prepare for the rush of spring gardening activity:
— order your perennials and woody plants now to get the best selection. (Most local nurseries sell only a very few native species, so I rely on mail order and on specialty nurseries that are up to four hours away.) If you wait until it’s time to plant, nurseries will be sold out of many species.
— buy your vegetable seeds and start them indoors according to this schedule so the seedlings will be ready for spring planting. It’s time to start tomatoes!
— as soon as the ground is bare of snow and not too wet, direct sow seeds of early greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and mesclun mix. Peas and radishes can be sown outdoors as well. They’ll germinate and grow slowly at first, but with any luck you’ll have fresh salad greens in about 6 weeks. Sow a new crop every two weeks to ensure a continuous supply of spring greens until the weather really heats up.
— once you can explore your entire property, evaluate the winter’s damage. Don’t remove dead wood or broken branches unless they pose hazards to people or property, because they might be supplying food or shelter to winter-weary creatures, but see what will need doing. How much mulch will you need? Will your evergreens need spring pruning to remove winter damage?
— it’s not too late to extend a garden bed or start a new one, and it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn: spread a 3-4 inch layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area now to kill the grass. You’ll be able to plant in April or May.
— finally, and most important, monitor your garden for bird activity. You should be seeing lots of it, as spring migrants arrive and winter residents continue to forage and begin to build nests. If you’re not seeing this, maybe your garden lacks winter food. Does your garden feed birds year-round? I’ve still got seeds of ironweed and Rudbeckia as well as leaf litter and dead wood for the birds to search for insects. If you’re not seeing birds, consider what steps you can take this season: for example, plant native perennials, stop pruning dead wood quite so aggressively, stop using pesticides on your lawn.
Enjoy the signs of early spring!