What a treat to have some early warming weather the last few days. Of course it is way too early to be doing much other than a little debris pick up out in the yard. This weather does allow us to see what has been happening outdoors though. It is pretty easy to see what the rabbits have been feeding on. Herbaceous plants will have been eaten down to the ground, while woody plants will be showing a lot of white color, the area just beneath the bark that they have eaten away. Telltale signs are those droppings we see so often in the snow and on the soil surface where feeding has been happening. Smaller 4 legged critters will feed on the tops of exposed roots at the soil surface and their bite marks are smaller.
If birds have been supplied with food and water all winter, the melting snow will reveal runs in the lawn from voles. Voles need to eat year round and the bird seed that has fallen to the ground and not consumed by the ground feeding birds is an easy meal. The trails that were under the snow and providing protection from predators will go from the feeder back to the area where they have been hiding out all winter.
It is not uncommon to see the tips of our hardy spring flowering bulbs poking out of the soil. That is about as far as they will go until it is safe for the bulb to emerge with foliage and bloom once spring actually gets here. This is a great time to collect some branches of our spring blooming shrubs and ornamental trees to force them indoors over the next few weeks for their bloom show. Take a few branches each week for several weeks to have continuous blooms inside. Add some cut flowers to the vase for added color and dimension. The cut flowers help hide the woody stems too.
On the warmer sides of the home, there may be some early insect activity as overwintering adult insects can begin to move around during the day. Spiders are some of the earliest insects outside. You may see the same thing happening indoors with Flies, Box Elder bugs and the Asian lady beetles.
As you wander your yard, the lawn may feel uneven or you may see some perennials seemingly heaved out of the ground. Under foot you are feeling the impacts of freezing and thawing actions, you get to see that with your perennials pushed out of the ground. The lawn will settle back down, but you may need to press the crowns of the perennials back into the soil later when the soils are completely thawed.
Go out and begin to enjoy your yard; it will only get better as early spring arrives.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.