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Now's the time to prune trees and start seeds

There are plenty of things to do for your garden, even when there's still snow on the ground. Late winter and early spring is the best time for these activities:

Prune trees

  • Trees to prune now: Oaks, apple, crabapple, maple, birch, honeylocust, showy mountain ash, hawthorne, butternut, walnut, ironwood, blue beech. 
  • Note some trees like birch, maple and walnut may drip sap from the cuts. That's ok - it's a natural occurrence.
  • Tools for pruning: hand pruner, lopper, hand saw, polesaw, chainsaw. Tools with telescoping handles are handy for reaching branches in the canopy. 
  • Read more: Pruning trees and shrubs

Start some seeds

  • Start seeds that take a long time to germinate or grow to planting size: geraniums, pansies, wax begonias, leeks, onions, alpine strawberry, browallia, clarkia, dusty miller, fountain grass, impatiens, larkspur, lobelia, nemesia, stocks, torenia, celery. 
  • Use peat pots or other biodegradable pots for starting transplant-sensitive clarkia and nemesia. You can rip off the bottoms of biodegradable pots and plant them right in the ground.
  • Plant tubers like begonias in a flat of peat moss or vermiculite for bloom in June.
    • Move plants you have been overwintering into a sunny window.
    • Cut off dead leaves and stems.
    • Repot if needed and start watering.
    • Wait till fertilize until you see new growth emerge.
  • Read more: Starting Seeds Indoors. Watch a video: Starting Seeds

Clean equipment and tools

  • Pots and saucers: Clean off soil residue and wash in hot, soapy water, inside and out. 
  • Stakes, cages, small trellises, pruning tools:
    • Use a rag or old towel and wipe all surfaces with isopropyl or ethyl alcohol (70-100%).
    • A 10% bleach solution is fine for non-metal items.
    • Alcohol is better for metal as it won't cause rusting.
  • Sharpen pruning tools with a sharpening stone, or have them professionally sharpened. Google "tool sharpening" for services in your area.
  • Use a file to sharpen the blades of spades, shovels, trowels, garden forks, and other digging tools.
  • Take this opportunity to inspect handles for cracks or splits, lose hardware and handles. Repair them now before you really need them.

Beat the rush: Get a soil test done

Spring is a busy time for the University Soil Testing Lab, so submitting a soil test now can almost guarantee a quicker turn-around. Even though there is still snow on the ground, you may be able to collect a soil sample as the frost is not as deep in the ground this winter.

Follow the guidelines for collecting a sample, filling out the form and sending it in to the Soil Testing Laboratory.

Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator, horticulture

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