Snowdrops are already blooming in some local gardens and crocuses are not far behind. That, combined with predictions of an early spring by groundhogs Punxsutawney Phil and Chuckles here in Connecticut — neither of whom saw his shadow, mean spring should arrive early in the region.
That’s great news for gardeners anxiously awaiting the chance to get their hands dirty working in their flower beds, vegetable gardens, and lawns, eager to coax colorful blossoms, delicious produce and herbs, and a carpet of green grass from the earth. The lack of significant snowfall and seasonally warmer temperatures mean they can start general maintenance and cleaning now, according to some local gardening experts.
“We’re hoping for an early spring, and we’re hoping people are going to get out and garden because it’s good for the soul and good for the environment,” says Tony Ferrigno, co-owner of Treeland Garden Center & Nursery in Bridgeport. “It’s a healthy hobby.”
This year, homeowners can get a jump-start on garden chores, according to Sean Corenki, general manager of The Gardener’s Center and Florist in Darien. Corenki recommends doing soil testing now, especially for vegetable gardens and lawns. The testing is inexpensive or, in some cases, free. But it can take up to four weeks for results so earlier test results push up the work schedule for gardeners.
He also suggests “rejuvenating” pruning of summer blooming shrubs like roses, butterfly bushes, some hydrangeas, and roses of Sharon to stimulate new growth. Avoid a common mistake, Corenki warns: “Stay away from shrubbery that flowers in the spring, like azaleas, rhododendrons, and lilacs. It won’t harm those plants to prune now but it will remove all the flowers for this year.”
Bob Ferrigno, Tony’s uncle and co-owner of Treeland, says pruning is important now because it not only encourages new growth and fuller blossoms next season, but it also increases the amount of much-needed sunlight in a garden.
Garden preparation for the spring should be rather simple because of the mild winter, states Eugene Reelick, the owner and principal of Hollandia Nurseries in Bethel. “There’s less debris and less sand to rake off lawns from the snowplows on the edge of the road,” he observes. That sand contains salt, which is damaging to grass. He warns not to feed grass too early. “Grass is still dormant and time-sensitive,” he explains. “If we feed too early and then we get heavy rains or snows that feed leaches out. It doesn’t bind into the soil, so it is not a benefit.” Adding lime to the soil now is fine.
General maintenance still applies, he says: “Clean the flower beds of loose debris including branches and leaf litter.”
Jeff Deorio, owner of Reynolds Farms in Norwalk, offers the following spring garden prep suggestions:
Assess what you want to do for this spring, and plan for any changes you’d like to make for the upcoming season. Did you make notes from last season? If so, now is the time to implement those changes.
Now is a good time to rake out garden beds, and if it’s warm enough, your lawn.
At the end of March, start preventative measures, such as spraying fruit trees and berry bushes with a natural product like dormant oil, which is used on fruit trees before the buds begin to swell and suffocate insects and their eggs nesting in branches.
If you want to start plants from seed packets, check the packet for how many weeks ahead you need to start, based on the last frost (usually around Mother’s Day). If you don’t start your seeds early enough, you probably won’t have your plants producing until much later than you’d like.
Rob Flader, nursery manager at Benedict’s Home & Garden in Monroe, adds that this is a good time of year to deadhead perennial plantings and cut back perennial grasses for homeowners who did not do so last fall.
While the milder weather allows people to toil in the soil earlier, it also brings its own set of challenges. The damp, warmer winter promotes mold growth and a proliferation of insects including ticks and mosquitoes. Reelick says fungus continues to spore so an earlier-than-usual application of fungicide is a must. “Fungus is going to be a huge issue this year, and the ticks and mosquitoes are going to be unbelievable, and the triple E virus is still out there,” he states.
If there is snow on the ground, wait until it’s gone to put down a systemic fungicide. “Go over perennial beds and pachysandra to stop the spread of fungus and blight,” Reelick says, noting that Hollandia has product application services for its clients, as do many garden centers and nurseries.
There is going to be a big change in the bug pollination population, both positive and negative, according to Reelick. “It wasn’t a hard winter for the bees or other beneficial insects. It’s not just bees that pollinate. There are a lot of positive pollinators,” Reelick says, adding that they need to be protected.
Gardening experts are hoping this warmer than usual weather will encourage people to get outside earlier and in greater numbers. “Being outside to work in the garden is fabulous. We can get a little more Vitamin D, which we all need,” Reelick says.
“I think it’s rewarding, and people are health conscious. They want to grow their own organic vegetables. They want to know where their fruits and vegetables are coming from. It’s a rewarding hobby to grow something in your yard, go out and harvest it and feed it to your family. We have all those products here to help you in that direction,” Ferrigno says, adding that gardening produces unexpected benefits: “Beautification of their home, through landscaping and turf care, increases the resale value on their home.”
Proceed with caution, though. We all know how fickle Mother Nature can be. We could still get a late frost, and it’s not unheard of to have snow in April. So stick to the long-held rule that suggests not planting anything in the ground until after Mother’s Day.