Early spring tasks before the growing season begins

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It's that time of year. Ready, set… and wait. 

The winter snows are all gone and recent snows are not going to last long as we have more and more days above freezing temperatures. There is a general feeling that we should be outside doing “something” in the yard. While we continue to experience weather that is warm one day, cold and snowy the next, there are some really basic gardening tasks that can be done. Do these on a dry day or while the ground remains frozen in the early part of the day.

Address natural and unnatural yard debris

Pines, spruce and fir trees may have dropped cones and needles. It would be OK to pick up the cones but wait to rake up the evergreen needles for warmer, drier weather. Dead branches and twigs can be picked up from around trees and large shrubs and in the lawn. Leave the perennial plants and grass alone until we are having temperatures that stay in the 50s to support overwintering beneficial insects. Leaving the tops on also will continue to protect any early emerging foliage by disguising it from the rabbits.

You can always “do a walk-about” and collect paper, cardboard, and plastics that have made their way into the landscape. Seek out a plastic bag first and then you have a bag to put the rest of the debris in. You can count on garbage and recycling pick up to be the windiest day of the week!

Survey for rabbit and rodent damage

While you are out there doing the clean-up, check out the shrubs and perennials for feeding damage. Thin-barked shade trees and fruit trees are always an easy target for rabbits. Tender perennial flowers also will be easy meals. If you have fencing up, be sure it is still intact and solid to the ground.

Prepare equipment

One of the first motorized pieces used this growing season will be the lawnmower, and second to that is likely going to be a rototiller for the vegetable garden. Neither has run since last fall, maybe longer for the tiller. Start off the season with fresh oil and gas. Even with fresh gas, the engines can be hard to start. Check the spark plug, or even better, replace it. Air filters need attention too. The mower more so than the tiller as the mower is more likely catch more dirt being closer to the ground.

Warm up (and organize for seed starting)

While not necessarily an outdoor activity, check the garage, basement, and garden shed for the needed seed starting tools. If you are going to reuse pieces, make sure that they are cleaned thoroughly. Plan a trip to your favorite garden center for fresh seed and soilless seed starting media.

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.