Pansy plants are starting to be available in stores now. They can be set out any time that the soil is dry enough to work. If you planted pansies last fall, they're beginning to green up now. They'll continue blooming until hot weather. There are lots of new varieties and colors. It's particularly pretty to combine pink pansies with English daisies (Bellis perennis).
One of the glorious scents from the garden is that of sweet peas. They flourish in cool weather, so sow the seed any time that the soil can be worked. Prepare the soil with composted manure and a high phosphorus fertilizer. With a knife, nick the seed on the side away from the "eye." Space seeds 2 inches apart in a 3-inch deep trench, covering with a half-inch of soil. Gradually fill in the trench as the plants grow. Provide support for the vines.
Test Old Seeds
Do you have leftover seed from previous years? Test germination before planting them in the garden. Depending on the quantity of seed you have, put at least ten or so seeds on half of a piece of moistened paper towel. Fold the towel over the seeds and keep warm and moist for several days up to a week. Ideally, at least 75 percent of the seeds should germinate. If fewer, either discard the seed or sow very thickly. At least you'll know what to expect.
If grapes haven't been pruned yet, do so immediately so that "bleeding" is minimal. Cut off the old fruiting arms. Choose and tie up four new canes and prune each back to six buds. Choose four other new canes and prune back to two buds to form renewal spurs. Prune currants and gooseberries, removing oldest stems, suckers, and low stems and shortening main branches by one-half. Feed with a balanced fertilizer and mulch around the base.
Uncovering and Trimming
The garden is more attractive during the winter if the tops of ornamental grasses are left on. It's time now to begin trimming these off so that new growth can readily emerge. There's definitely cold weather and possibly snow yet, but you can begin checking plants and slowly removing mulch over the next month. Any tops left on perennials over winter should be cut back now.