In most years, I write a column in mid-March listing all the garden tasks waiting to be completed in this busy month. Not this year. Now March is over, but I still need a few more degrees on the thermometer before I go out and get busy. There is a mess of sticks and stones out there, and the plumes of the ornamental grass are waving at me, so plenty is to be done when I get started.
The green leaves of daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and tulips are looking healthy and strong as they stick up through the snow and ice, and there seem to be more than usual of the clumps of leaves of the Naked Ladies (lycoris).
These leaves stay around for a few weeks and then disappear, only to have the bulbs send up the bare stems topped by pink lily-like flowers in late summer.
A big job for me is cutting down last year's plumes and leaves of many ornamental grasses. I have Japanese blood grass, zebra miscanthus, fountain grass, ribbon grass and some old faithfuls whose names are long forgotten. I enjoy them through the winter when they rustle and wave in the wind and often are decorated with snow and ice, but the reckoning comes in spring when they need to be cut back before the new, green growth starts.
I find the best way to tackle this is by tying the clumps with a spiral of strong string and then hacking away at the clump about 6 inches above the ground.
My compost bins will appreciate some of this dry matter after a winter of fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and stale bread. The birds get first dibs on the bread, but they will not eat garlic bread or some other flavored varieties.
Pansy plants can be set out in a couple of weeks, as soon as the ground can be worked. They are tough little plants and will survive frost and cold. Their glowing faces are very welcome along the edges of my front garden, and once they are past their best, the late-arriving portulaca is ready to replace them.
This is a good time to re-pot house plants which probably are responding to longer days with a spurt of growth. They may need moving to larger containers, and will enjoy an occasional hour outside in filtered shade once things have warmed.
Over the next few weeks, some of the hardiest vegetable seeds can be planted directly into the garden. Peas, spinach, beets, carrots, lettuce and radishes will withstand cool conditions. The books tell you to plant potatoes at this time, but I have found the seed potatoes are apt to rot if the spring rains come upon us, so I wait until early May.
The asparagus bed will appreciate a dose of fertilizer about now before the rapid growth gets under way. And if weed seeds from the fall begin to germinate between the plants, this is the time to get them out, by hand or with careful use of a hoe. My plants are 4 years old now, and I can hardly wait for the full harvest I am hoping for.
To remind yourself of joys to come, bring in a vase full of twigs. We all know about forsythia and pussy willows, but box elder, maple alder, oak and buckeye twigs also will leaf out after a week or so in water.
Hang in there; it really won't be long now.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.