GARDENING COLUMN: Trying to Wait Patiently for Spring | Home & Garden

“Take over the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mother Nature sure is a fickle one. I finally started to see my daffodils, hellebore, iris and my other early perennials and then she threw another snow shower our way. I know I have to be patient, but it’s very difficult at this time of year.

My side yard is pretty wet and I still have frozen ground in other places. I would like to start tidying up my garden beds as I am afraid if I wait any longer the perennials will have grown so much that I will damage them with the rake. When your yards and gardens are thawed and dry enough to walk on without getting muddy, it’s time to break out the rake. You want to remove leaves and other dead plant matter from your perennial beds before your spring flowering bulbs and perennials get too tall. If the soil in your perennial beds can be tilled, you can spread fertilizer as needed and gently work it in. Plant pansies in the workable soil to add a touch of color. Watch out for perennials that could use a division. For example, chrysanthemums can be divided every year or two—try when they’re about three inches tall. Coreopsis – tick seed, Achillea millefolium – yarrow and Gaillardia – blanket flower – can be divided every two to four years and Monarda – bee balm – every three to four years. Deer rarely bother tick seed, yarrow, blanket flower, or bee balm, so be sure to divide and distribute these plants if deer are a problem for you. Keep an eye on your hostas and, ideally, divide them as soon as the “eyes” or growth tips appear to minimize damage to the rest of the clump. I check hostas regularly to see if they have emerged as I want to divide them and spread them out more.

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This is also the time to rake the lawn, prune non-flowering shrubs, and plant bare-root trees — including fruit — and shrubs. When choosing deciduous trees and shrubs, choose those that are still dormant and have not yet started to sprout. When adding an evergreen, avoid choosing plants that will show new growth. Cover the trees with two to three inches of mulch, but avoid placing it right next to the tree or creating a mulch volcano. The mulch helps control weeds, erosion, and soil temperature, and minimize water loss. Expect new trees to be watered regularly for the first few years.

It’s still early days to plant much in the vegetable garden, but there are some cool-weather plants that you may plant now or soon. Make sure the night air temperature stays above 45 degrees Fahrenheit and the ground temperature is 40 degrees F. If you have these conditions, you can plant lettuce, spinach, chard, parsnips, onion sets, carrots, radishes, parsley, and peas. Just make sure the soil isn’t too wet. For example, peas don’t like wet feet and will germinate poorly if the soil is too wet. Once the soil is tillable, turn over your cover crop if you have one planted. Green manures are legumes such as winter wheat or rye, buckwheat, beans, peas and oats. If you haven’t grown a cover crop, dress up your garden with compost or composted manure. Composted manure has no offensive odor and is almost the texture of soil. Fresh manure should never be applied to fruit and vegetables in spring or during the growing season. This is due to the possibility of transmitting human pathogens such as E. coli. Wait until fall to add fresh fertilizer to your garden. To learn more about using manure in your gardens, visit

There are so many things you can do in the garden, provided Mother Nature is kind. Until then I will work on my patience.

For more information or garden questions, contact the University of Wisconsin Madison of Extension Sauk County office at 608-355-3250 or email


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