Cut Back Ornamental Grasses and Some Shrubs
Letting ornamental grasses stand throughout winter is a wonderful way to add dimension and interest to the garden in the "off" season, but it's time now to cut them back to the ground. For large plants, this is best done with a chainsaw or hedge trimmer. You'll also get the best blooms and strongest growth by cutting back shrubs that bloom on new growth. These include glossy abelia, butterfly bush, beautyberry, caryopteris, and Russian sage.
Plant and Tend Rhubarb
Rhubarb is an easy-to-grow edible that lives for 8 to 15 years, with the stalks providing the basis for pies, jams, drinks, and other wonderful treats. It grows best in fertile, well-drained soil that is high in organic material. Plant the dormant roots in early spring, spacing 36 inches apart and setting the top of the root 2 inches below the soil surface. Don't harvest the first year. For established plants, in early spring work a cup of a complete fertilizer into the soil around the plant and mulch with composted manure, being sure to not cover the crown.
Inventory Tender Bulbs and Order More
If you stored tender bulbs, such as gladiolas or dahlias, check on them now. Discard any that show signs of mold or rot as well as any that are shriveled. If rot is a problem, dust the remaining ones with sulfur. Make a list of which ones you'd like to add to the garden this year, then go shopping. Consider elephant ear, tuberous begonias, caladium, gastonia, tuberose, rain lily, spider lily, Peruvian daffodil, and others.
Prune and Tend Clematis
Clematis are some of the first plants to start growing in spring, so you need to put pruning them near the top of your "to do" list. How you prune depends on which of three distinct groups each variety falls into. If you're not sure about yours, go to Clematis on the Web at http://www.clematis.hull.ac.uk/index.cfm, which has an index of over 3500 clematis varieties maintained by the University of Hull in Great Britain. The pruning group for each variety is listed, plus pruning instructions. After pruning, apply a compost mulch around the base or several handfuls of bone meal.
Plan for Pansies
The bright, cheerful "faces" of pansies are among spring's most delightful harbingers. Garden centers will soon be offering them in all their glorious colors. Since pansies are tolerant of frosts and grow best in the cool temperatures of spring, be sure to buy some as soon as they become available. Make plans now for where you'll most enjoy them, such as in pots just outside the kitchen door, in window boxes, or in a bed along the front walk.