By Laura Schwarz
Winter is over! We did it!
If we wake up to a blizzard tomorrow, you’ll have to forgive my arrogant optimism. I, like many other Minnesotans, have already been hopeful. I’ve purchased my inaugural bag of potting soil, sharpened my pruners, and started hauling away this past winter’s evergreen branches. And of course, I’ve been daydreaming about planting! I’ve got that gardener’s itch. I hope you’re feeling the same way, looking longingly at your fingernails for signs of dirt. Still, it’s a tricky time of year. We hardened northerners know all too well that a late frost can appear out of nowhere. As much as I want to tell you to run outside right now and start digging, I’ll preach caution instead. It’s too early for most summer gardening tasks. However, there’s always plenty to do in the garden. Here are some tips on what you should and shouldn’t do in early spring.
If you didn’t clean your garden thoroughly in the fall, there are probably messy clumps of dead leaves and stems everywhere. For hardy perennials, you can safely remove all leaf cover and mulch. Snipping off last year’s dead growth is also OK, especially if there was any diseased plant material. If you attempted to overwinter any non-hardy perennials, you should probably leave them covered a little longer. Mid-April is an ideal time for removing protective cover. Keep an eye on the weather to avoid any frosts, but also watch for warm temps, which can cause mold growth on covered plants.
I know it’s tempting, but hold off on your summer plantings until there’s no longer any frost risk. April annuals should be cold tolerant, so limit yourself to tough contenders like English ivy, kale, and pansies. Cold season veggies, such as greens, onions, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, etc. should be seeded around the middle of the month.
By now, you should have pruned many of your trees and shrubs for the year. However, shrub rose, spirea, dogwood, ninebark, barberry, burning bush, sumac, honeysuckle, and smokebush can all be pruned before they bud out. Remove any dead branches, and cut a few of the largest, oldest branches all the way to the shrub’s base. Trim the remaining branches back to their desired height. Some shrubs can even be cut all the way back to the ground. (Do your research before doing that, though!)
Remember all of the things that went wrong in your garden last year? Well, this spring is a chance to fix your mistakes and choose some new adventures. Spend some time planning, and before you know it, it’ll be time to plant everything. Personally, I always appreciate the time to step back and think about what is best for my garden in the upcoming season. Spring is here! Enjoy.
Laura Schwarz, a New Ulm native, is a horticulturist with Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis.