The cat insisted I come in when the rain became serious. This was fortunate, though, as I now notice the inevitable lower back strain that comes with the first few days of returning to the garden, usually much later in the spring.
Toronto area gardeners are cooped up indoors for much of the year, and lose the physical preparedness for gardening. Spring comes with a serious danger of injury, especially for those of us who tackle our gardens the way a starving dog attacks its food, and don’t know when to quit. Yesterday and today were a gift! With temperatures matching record highs, V-shaped flocks of birds are migrating north, buds are swelling and things are growing!
Normally, the ground here is frozen for at least another month and I have tried to dig in April before when it has still been rock-hard. This is something gardeners in warmer locations must have difficulty imagining. Today, however, it has thawed enough to pull a few weeds, roots and all. This sort of thing is a real thrill for me because once things get growing in this climate, everything grows at once, weeds and all. Opportunities to keep on top of maintenance are severely shortened compared to those on, say, Vancouver Island where my gardening relatives work on their properties year-round.
Since I have to avoid seriously disabling myself due to a dinner party I must throw this weekend, I will stay indoors until the next predicted warm-up, Sunday, and list the top ten things northern gardeners can do on a warm day in March.
10. Cut off dead, old or awkward tree branches from deciduous and flowering trees. It is so much easier to see their shape and condition before the leaves appear, and opportunities before flowering season are so limited. Note, however, that too much pruning of certain flowering trees at this time of year will remove blossoms. This is a time for removing entire larger branches, rather than an overall clean-up of the tree.
9. Prune shrubs: remove suckers and crossing branches, and thin out shrubs like hydrangea, forsythia, weigela, spirea and even cut back junipers. Every year I mean to do this and by the time weather is permitting the leaves are budding out and the individual branches become hard to see. Note again, though, that some hydrangeas form their flowers the previous year and you won’t want to prune the flowers off. You can remove weak or excess branches from overgrown or droopy Annabelle or Pee-Gee hydrangeas to allow nourishment to focus on the remaining flowers.
8. Cut back shrubs and perennials that require cutting back to 6-12 inches to re-grow each year, such as roses, Russian Sage, Butterfly Bush and the like.
7. Clean up the remains of last year’s perennials, including hostas. It is so easy to just rake up the muck and brittle debris of daylilies, catmint (this always gets the attention of my furry little friends), hardy geraniums and other non-evergreen plants. Normally, I would leave this debris a little longer for winter protection, but with highs above 5C forecast for most of the next two weeks, protection from what? New growth is already visible under the geranium leaves and I’m prepared to risk it.
6. Rake up beds. Or, if you were out weeks ago, continue to rake up beds.
5. Get ahead of a few weeds! In the northern Greater Toronto Area, where I garden, weeds in thawing areas can actually be removed roots and all, an extraordinary and rare opportunity to get ahead of the onslaught once other gardening tasks become urgent. What a strange luxury!
4. Cut back Sedum Autumn Joy and, eventually, tall grasses that were left for winter interest once green growth becomes visible at the base. I am working on my sedums although I am leaving the grasses pending more generalized growth in the garden.
3. Clip off old hellebore leaves to allow a better view of the flowers the moment they
open. My hellebores are on a north-slanting slope opposite my sunroom window for optimal viewing on chilly days.
Okay, yes, since you ask, I was gardening in the dark. Okay? It was still warm, what can I tell you.
2. Hard rake your lawn. This one is very hard on the back, so take it easy and be glad you can begin this early and not try to do it all at once. Hard raking will remove the thatch from your lawn (toss it into a pail) and promote a quick, healthy start to its growth. I also like to rake it away from the edged areas before it slithers into the garden and adds to the weeding.
Bonus thing to do: humour the dear Victoria gardeners in your life, who need to stay smug. So what if they have thousands of blossoms–in a short time our extreme climate will catapult our riotous burst of flowers past their early but gradual advantages.
When do you first get into your garden each year? What is your biggest early spring thrill? Share your kicks by commenting on this post.