This may be your first walk about in the home landscape for 2018. In the perennial beds, you may see indications of early spring bulbs just barely showing some green tips, more where they have been protected by the home or fallen leaves. Since spring bulbs are the first up, they are the first to be eaten by rabbits, so protect them as best you can.
Woody plants should still be showing signs of being very dormant for a few more weeks. One exception is Hamamelis vernalis, known as Vernal witch hazel. This large shrub, around here, blooms in February and March with strap-like flower petals that fold up at night for protection. This witch hazel has a companion with yellow strap-like flowers that will bloom in October and November (weather permitting) call common witch hazel.
Other plants that should be green right now include the groundcover Pachysandras, Rhododendron and Boxwoods. There may be a hint of purple in the leaves, which may be cupped or curled from the winter cold. If we get that "winter thaw" and the ground can absorb water, it is good if you can give them a drink to help them get through the rest of our winter and early spring. No need to dig out the water hose, you can use a plastic gallon jug or five-gallon bucket to get the job done. If an anti-desiccant was applied last fall, another application can be applied if the temperatures are above freezing over a couple of days. Read that label to be sure.
What else can you see or deal with while the snow is gone? Be on the lookout for evidence of rabbit feeding, either direct damage to landscape plants or rabbit droppings as evidence that they have been eating in the landscape. While the bare ground is with us, rabbit fencing can still be put in place, and repellants can be applied (weather permitting, especially the air temperature).
If you feed the birds and squirrels, you would expect to see rabbit droppings, as they will be the "cleanup crew," feeding at night. You may even be able to see smaller legged critters like voles feeding as well.
So even now, there can be things to do carefullyin the home landscape.
The Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk resumes for 2018 in March – Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 630-553-5823. Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with This Week in the Garden videos at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the Green Side Up podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup.