In the Garden as Winter becomes Spring

With abundant sunshine this week and only a forecast of showers standing between us and Spring, now's your last best chance to take care of those winter to-do items and get your garden ready for peak season. 

First, cut back grasses to about 6" above ground level, to make room for the coming flush of growth. If perennials such Mexican sage are beginning to regrow from their base, cut those back as well. Woody shrubs such as Salvia greggii, hydrangeas, viburnums and dogwoods may also be showing new growth along their old branches; we trim these back to just above a new growth node about 1/2 or even 2/3 back from the ends. 

Second, clear out anything that's obviously dead. Give serious thought to also removing any specimens that struggled last year: anything that didn't thrive probably is in the wrong location (or receiving the wrong care) and won't do much better this year. With this riffraff gone, step back and evaluate the "bones," or basic structure, of your garden. Are there gaping holes? Overly (or underly) vigorous specimens? Poorly shaped trees or large shrubs that are blocking light, views or paths? Dead end views with no payoff? Make a list; landscape designers commonly work from a map of the garden and number the items that need attention. 

Third, revisit your wish list. Is there anything you have been wanting more of in your garden: color, fragrance, movement, wildlife? Anything you've seen in your travels—whether plants or pots, furniture, lighting, or other ornaments—that you'd like to try replicating at home? Again, make a list, collect pictures, and start (or update) an idea file. If possible, also identify a budget and prioritize your list into "must have," "nice to have," and "if I win the lottery" levels of importance. If you need some help, a professional landscape designer can figure out what’s truly feasible for your garden, and how to achieve your most important items within your budget.

Fourth, give your "tools of the trade" a checkup. Run your irrigation systems and check coverage and pressure; test hoses for leaks; check landscape lighting systems for burned out bulbs and blocked or broken fixtures; and sharpen your shovel, spade, hoe, pruning shears, loppers, and lawnmower blades (many local hardware stores offer sharpening services). Also make sure your gardening gloves, knee pads, wide-brimmed hat and other gear are in good shape. 

Finally, make sure your team of garden experts is at the ready. This might include a landscape designer, landscape contractor, fine gardener, arborist, irrigation specialist, and/or plant nursery. And if you'll be doing the work yourself, schedule a massage (or chiropractor visit) for the next day. After all, there's no reason all this work can't have its rewards.