Spring is in the air and after the relentless winter we have had, gardeners are desperate to get outside and do something. There are enough gardening jobs to do around our house on nice days to keep both gardeners busy through April.
The bulbs are starting to push through the cold soil toward the warmth of the sun. My little snowdrops are blooming nicely just a few days after they came through the snow and a patch of daffodils that did not get mulched properly are showing a couple of inches of green.
My favorite spring flower is always the little muscari, common name grape hyacinth. It will soon be pushing through the mulch, a few leaves, a single stalk and a cone shape of small blue flowers. Muscari's common name is grape hyacinth because the little flower resembles clusters of grapes arranged to resemble the larger hyacinth. Most muscari are blue or violet with an occasional cultivar in yellow, pink or white.
Because of its small size, muscari should be planted in large groups about three inches apart and in our zones 4/5, full sun. A bulb planted here and there will not even be noticed but drifts of the little blue flowers make a nice contrast with the other spring bulbs. Muscari should be planted in August, about 2 inches deep so that it will have enough time to become established before the ground freezes. Fertilize with standard bulb fertilizer mixed into the soil as they are planted. After the muscari bloom don't be in a hurry to cut the foliage back. The leaves are needed to allow the bulbs to store nutrients for next spring's display. The foliage will slowly fade away until late summer when the little bulbs will send up tufts of lush green foliage.
In March and into our cold April, you want to keep your perennials and bulbs cold and in the ground for a few more weeks. Don't be in a hurry to remove the mulches. If they have broken through there is nothing you can do. But for right now don't encourage them.
While waiting for better weather, order your summer bulbs and plants from those wonderful spring catalogs. This should be done immediately or you will certainly be disappointed. Don't be afraid to order now, the plants will not be shipped until the proper planting time. Usually the company sends an e-mail when your order is sent. Be sure you are organized and ready to get these plants in the ground as soon as they come. They can't wait.
The one thing not to do in early spring is to cultivate the soil. That task must wait until the soil is dry enough. To test the soil, pick up a handful, squeeze it tight and drop from waist height. If the soil ball falls apart then the soil can be cultivated. If the soil ball remains tight then cultivation will compact the soil. Likewise do not step on the garden soil.
If you must step on the soil, use a board as a step to distribute your weight over a large area. Even if the soil is dry enough and the air temperature is warm enough, the temperature of the soil is the most important part of successful gardening, and that won't happen for many weeks yet.
An important early spring task is cleaning and organizing your planting bench or potting shed. Over the winter our garden tools and equipment can get buried. If your tools were not put away properly, take the time now to clean and sharpen the metal and oil the wooden handles. If properly taken care of, good tools should last a lifetime. Get your lawn mower out and ready for action, especially if you neglected to winterize it properly. If you maintain your own mower, check the owner's manual before you begin. If you need help, the small engine repair shops should be able to take your equipment right now. Dare we take in the snow blower too? Check your supplies of compost, mulch and fertilizers, keep track of the dates of early spring chores as well as the first robin sighting, temperatures and precipitation.
Sticks can be picked up as soon as the lawn has dried properly. Our lawn drains very quickly but many do not drain for weeks yet. You know your situation.
The one big rule of spring is that there is still winter weather coming. It always snows in April, some years in May. March and April are the getting ready months. Take your time and enjoy the coming of spring on its terms. Sometimes it's one step forward and two steps back. Remember, spring comes one blossom at a time.