Get Ready for Nesting
The birds are already singing their spring songs, so do your part by cleaning out nest boxes, if you haven't already done so, or by purchasing or building new boxes and installing them. Another way to encourage birds to your yard is to provide nesting materials. Besides what is naturally available, consider putting out soft, curled feathers; short lengths of string, yarn, or twine; human, dog, or horse hair; cattail fluff; dead blades of ornamental grasses; moss; or scraps of loosely woven, coarse fabric. For details and a treasure-trove of other ideas for birds, look to the book Projects for the Birder's Garden, by Fern Marshall Bradley (Rodale Books, 2004, $17.95).
To make way for the new growth that will start soon, cut ornamental grasses back to several inches high. The easiest way to cut them is with a chainsaw. To keep the stems from flying everywhere, wrap a length of duct tape around the entire plant or tie with twine before cutting. Also cut back woody shrubs that die back to the ground in our region, such as buddleia, caryopteris, and crape myrtle. Although you'll lose the spring crop, the easiest way to prune everbearing raspberries is by cutting all the stems back to the ground now.
Prepare Tools and Equipment
Of course, you probably did this last fall, but just in case you didn't... Tune up lawn mowers, string trimmers, tillers, or any other power equipment. If you don't do it yourself, get the items to a reputable service company as soon as possible to beat the inevitable spring rush. Check over all your other supplies to see what either needs some care or repair as well as what needs to be bought.
Figure Out Clematis Pruning
Clematis have rightly earned the moniker of "queen of the climbers" for the wide range of flower colors, shapes, and sizes. By choosing the right varieties you can have blooms from spring until fall. What can be complicated about clematis is knowing how to prune them. Clematis can be grouped into three types: early spring-flowering, which bloom on the previous season's growth and should be pruned lightly immediately after flowering; mid spring- to early summer-flowering types, which bloom on both previous and current season's growth so judicious pruning in early spring is required; and midsummer- to mid fall-flowering varieties, which bloom on the current season's growth and can be cut back severely late winter or early spring. For more information, visit http://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profiles0201/clematis_pruning.asp
Consider Horticultural Oil
Variously called summer, dormant, or horticultural oil and sold under a variety of trade names, these products are among the safest insecticides to use and are effective for many soft-bodied insects, such as aphids, scale, and whiteflies. Although they can be applied at any time of year, one of the best times to use them is in late winter and early spring. Be sure to follow label directions and precautions. Besides the petroleum-based horticultural oils, there are now products from other sources, such as fish, sesame seed, neem seed, and rosemary, all of which are also effective.