Gardening tasks for early spring in WNY

purple crocuses in Amherst NY
Do you have any spring flowers, such as these crocuses, popping up yet? Take a walk around to see what your plants are doing. (This photo was made at the end of March 2013.) Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

After weeks of snow covering our gardens, we can see plants again here in Western New York! The sun has been shining. At times, the weather’s so warm, you can be outside without a sweater.

We can tackle some gardening tasks now that we couldn’t do just a couple of weeks ago.

But it’s still early spring and the weather fluctuates.

The afternoon warmth can be followed by freezing temperatures at night. A stretch of warm days can quickly revert to snow flurries.

So while we list garden-related activities you can do now, let’s take a look at a couple reminders about things that should wait.

Spring gardening tasks to do now

Stroll through your landscape

Find out what’s happening in your yard. See what plants have started to grow. Look for damage from wind, rabbitsdeer or moles and voles. Pick up any trash that blew into your yard.

Weed your garden

The top of your soil is thawed, and the soil is wet enough that the roots come out easily. Now is a great time to do some weeding because you have a lot of time–there aren’t many other tasks you can do outside now. Plus, it’s great to get a head start on weeds such as creeping Charlie. The more weeds you pull now means fewer weeds to pull later when you are busy planting.

Cut branches to force inside

Your spring shrubs, such as forsythia, pussywillow and crabapple probably aren’t blooming yet, but you can force them to bloom inside now, said David Clark, CNLP. Cut a few branches and place them inside in a vase of water. Bonus tip: Sign up for horticulture classes with Clark at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Hook up your rain barrel

In the winter we have to unhook our rain barrels from the water source to prevent the barrel from cracking. In the metropolitan Buffalo area, we probably won’t get temperatures now that are low enough and consistent enough to freeze a barrel full of water, so I think it’s safe to hook them up again. (If you live in a cooler area of Western New York, you may want to wait a few weeks.)

Rain barrels not only give you a convenient source of water, they help the environment by reducing stormwater runoff. That runoff hits streets and other surfaces, collecting oil, animal waste, litter, salt, pesticides, fertilizers, soil and other pollutants. Those pollutants are transported through the storm sewers directly into our waterways. The more rain water that stays where it lands (like in a rain barrel), the less polluted rain water we have going into our storm sewers and waterways.

Start composting

There’s no special season for making your own compost. The best time to begin composting is last year. The second-best time is today. See these previous articles on composting.

Clean garage, shed, basement

Sort your pots, clean your tools and, perhaps, find items you didn’t even know you had. This is a great task to do when you’re in a gardening mood but it’s raining (or snowing!) out.

Use autumn leaves

Last fall, did you save your leaves– and some of your neighbors’ leaves, too? Good for you! Now you can chop them in and mix them into your other material in your compost bin. Or you can use them as mulch to cover your garden beds to keep weeds down between plants.

Plan your garden

What did you notice–good or bad–when you strolled around your landscape? Use those insights to get started. You can get more ideas from past garden walks. Consider adding native plants. Grow some vegetables and herbs. See more topics here.

Get a peek at spring

Your spring flowers may not be ready to bloom yet, but there will be flowers galore at the Spring Flower Exhibit at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. The exhibit starts Saturday, March 26. See all the details here.

Gardening tasks that should wait

Wait to walk on garden soil

Stick to your pathways in your garden beds and lawn. If you walk on this squishy soil now, you’ll compact it. Compacted soil isn’t good for your plants.

Wait to rake

It’s so tempting to clear out leaf litter now, but if you do that, you may be harming bees, said Pamela A. Moore, Master Gardener.

“In my Master Gardener class we were told to avoid raking until we ACTUALLY observed bees flying about,” Moore said. “Other sources state that there should be no raking until there have been SUSTAINED temperatures above 50 degrees. Personally, I follow the temperature guidelines combined WITH observation. That is the best way to know that you are not unintentionally disturbing the queen bees that spend the winter in small holes ON or just below the surface.”

Wait to plant seeds for peppers, tomatoes

I know some people have already planted seeds inside for tender vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes. Maybe your plants will be okay, but they might be better if you wait a bit. See the details here.

However, you can plant seeds for some cool weather vegetables now. See those details here.

11 Comments on “Gardening tasks for early spring in WNY

  1. Hello Patricia Matinowski!

    Those fuzzy, gray catkins on Pussywillows can last several weeks outdoors, on the trees.
    Should you want to bring them indoors, I would cut a few stems and place them in a flower vase or bucket with water and a floral fortifier. As the catkins develop further, some folks prefer to pop off their hard, brown protective shell to let them expand quicker. The water needn’t be deep, just a couple of inches. As the water is drawn up the stems or evaporates completely, the stems will naturally dry, with the catkins still attached.
    The dry stems can last for a few seasons, and can be stored, wrapped in tissue paper, awaiting their next show!
    David R. Clark, CNLP

  2. pussy willow tree already has open pussy willows! How long will pussy willows last and how to take care of them inside?

  3. pussy willow tree already has open pussy willows! How long will they last and how to take care of them inside?

  4. Oh no I found about 10 lily beetles today well weeding and cutting back in perennial garden that has lily bulbs not even peeking out yet . Smooshed them all .

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