Days are finally starting to get longer and warmer, both of which gardener's become excited for each year. I stepped outside this morning and was grateful for the sunshine and warmth and began looking over my garden. The daffodils, tulips, bleeding heart, daylilies, and pulmonaria are all raising their heads up out of the ground. Then the realization set in that there is still garden clean up to do!
Now is the time to be clearing up any leftover plant debris from last year as well as any leaves that may still be lingering on the ground. As the grass begins to green up, you don't want the leaves smothering it potentially leading to problems. If you have a compost pile – save those leaves to be able to add browns throughout the summer. Growing up and even now – my mother always kept bags of fallen leaves to add to the compost pile during the season when browns are harder to come by. Any of the plant material leftover from last year can be added to the compost pile as long as there wasn't any disease issues – if there disease issues, it's just safer to not add it to the compost pile.
Avoid pruning any spring blooming shrubs until after they are done blooming. Make sure to prune them as quickly as possible once they are done blooming. Waiting too long to prune them can reduce blooms for next year as spring blooming shrubs set flower on previous year's growth. If you are itching to pull out the pruners – now is a great time to prune back summer or fall blooming shrubs. If you're not sure what the best way to prune shrubs is – there are a lot of great resources available to guide you. While you have those pruners out, cut back any ornamental grasses before they start to put out new growth for the season. To make it easier, tie the grass into a bundle before pruning that way you won't have rogue pieces of ornamental grass dancing through your yard.
Avoid pruning oaks now and through the growing season to help minimize the chance of Oak Wilt transmission. Prune oaks only when they are dormant.
Pots sitting around from last season? If the potting mix is old toss it out and start with fresh. If the potting mix was brand new last year – just remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the old potting mix and add new. If there were disease issues in that container last year – start with fresh potting mix and make sure to disinfect the container first. A 10% bleach solution can be used to sanitize pots followed by a good rinse.
The end of March is also the time to start planting a variety of vegetables including:
April is right around the corner and Illinois celebrates Arbor Day on the last Friday in April. Why not consider April as Plant a Tree Month and help grow our urban forest. We are offering a Tree Care Workshop on April 14, 2018 from 10 am – 2 pm at the Hancock County Extension Office. If you are interested in learning more about tree care including planting and pruning as well as identification please join us! The program is offered as a joint initiative between University of Illinois Extension and Trees Forever and is free to attend, but registration is required. You can register for the workshop at http://www.treesforever.org.