It’s time to get down and dirty in the garden again

By Steve Smith

Let’s face it, compared to other regions of our country, we have it pretty good when it comes to winter. Occasional snow rarely sticks around, night-time lows are usually above freezing, and the day temperatures can even get up into the 50’s.

Nothing stays dormant for long – we have a variety of plants that actually bloom in our mild maritime winters. Now that the “arctic blast” is behind us, it’s time to get back into the swing of things. I was shocked the other day to see that my assorted clumps of daffodils are already 6- to 8-inches tall, and I still haven’t removed last year’s leaf litter from around them.

Normally I can put this off until early February, but not this year. Hopefully, by the time you read this I will have cleaned out all of my flower beds (being careful not to damage those emerging bulbs) and moved all the debris to the compost pile.

A subsequent light dusting of lime, a bit of organic fertilizer, and a fresh 1-inch layer of compost should put everything in a good mood to start growing. It’s easy to forget that most of us have had the last two and half months off from gardening chores. Once the leaves were raked and the lawn mowed for the final time, there wasn’t much to do other than making sure the bird feeders were filled, there was fresh water in the bird baths, and any containers or beds under the eaves were well hydrated. Now, however, vacation is over, and there is an ever-expanding list of chores that I need to attend to, starting with removing all of last year’s foliage from my hellebores.

Hellebores are easy perennials to grow, but they will definitely benefit from cutting off the old leaves and leaving just the emerging flower stalks. This helps showcase the flowers and minimize any foliar diseases that can be transmitted from the old growth.

Another shade perennial, Epimedium, also benefits from literally being mowed to the ground now before its flowers emerge in mid-February. Late this month and all through February are critical for doing all sorts of pruning, and if you need advice, don’t hesitate to consult with a Certified Professional Horticulturist. Most garden centers have several on staff.

The more diverse your garden, the more likely you are going to attract a wider range of birds and other creatures. If some of that diversity includes winter blooming shrubs and perennials, chances are you will be graced with hummingbirds looking for nectar and pollen. Adding more-traditional feeders will also help draw in birds. Whether birds, bats, bees, butterflies or bugs (the good ones of course) are your thing, this is a good time to shop for feeders and houses that will encourage all of those creatures to hang out in your garden. It’s part of the full meal deal that we call gardening. We will still have some frosty nights, but winter is over as far as I am concerned. My garden is waking up and calling me to get involved with cleaning, pruning and even planting. It’s time to get those hands dirty again.

Steve Smith owns Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at

It’s time to get down and dirty in the garden again
It’s time to get down and dirty in the garden again