By Marty Ross
Technically, spring begins on March 21st, but I can never wait that long. For me spring begins the moment the very first crocus buds push up through the lawn. It’s still cold outside, but you can bundle up: The birds are singing their spring songs, and there’s plenty to do in the garden.
A little bit of pruning and raking makes a big difference in the garden as spring comes along. Before the daffodil and tulip foliage come up too tall, I take the hedge shears to the variegated vinca in front of the stonewall across my front porch. The vinca always looks fresh and lush during the summer and into late fall, but by March it is winter-beaten-down and bruised. A quick snip with the hedge shears cuts it back for a fresh start. Spring bulbs come up through the vinca stems, and by the time the tulips are in bloom, the vinca is flourishing again.
The vinca foliage is tangled, twiggy and hard to compost; it goes into a big paper bag for the city yard-waste pickup in spring. It doesn’t take long to fill a bag. Once I get a pair of nippers in my hand, I cut back any peony stems I missed in the fall, remove last year’s hellebore leaves, and trim back sunburned tips on the boxwoods. They all go into the bag too. Sedums, with their flat-topped flower heads, look pretty capped with snow in the winter. But I cut them back on a bright, cold day in March, along with the pale stems and seed heads of coneflowers. Goldfinches and chickadees eat the coneflower seeds in fall and winter, but the seeds are gone by now.
Winter can be hard on shrubs. Heavy snow and ice break a few twigs every year, so my husband and I usually do a little remedial pruning with sharp, long-handled loppers in late winter and early spring. It’s a good opportunity to shape shrubs lightly, removing stems that have grown at awkward angles or are reaching out across paths. We do this slowly, looking at our shrubs from all sides, to preserve their natural look. In the end there’s usually a bundle or two for the pickup crew, and that’s really all there is to it—the garden is ready for spring!