Not much actual work can be done in the garden, at the north, before the middle of April. But a good deal can be done toward getting ready for active work as soon as conditions become favorable.
Right here let me say that it is a most excellent plan to do all that can be done to advantage as early in the season as possible, for the reason that when the weather becomes warm, work will come with a rush, and in the hurry of it quite likely some of it will be slighted. Always aim to keep ahead of your work.
I believe, as I have several times said, in planning things. Your garden may be small—so small that you do not think it worth while to give much consideration to it in the way of making plans for it—but it will pay you to think over the arrangement of it in advance. “Making garden” doesn’t consist simply in spading up a bed, and putting seed into the ground. Thought should be given to the location and arrangement of each kind of flower you make use of. The haphazard location of any plant is likely to do it injustice, and the whole garden suffers in consequence.
Make a mental picture of your garden as you would like to have it, and then take an inventory of the material you have to work with, and see how near you can come to the garden you have in mind. Try to find the proper place for every flower. Study up on habit, and color, and season of bloom, and you will not be likely to get things into the wrong place as you will be almost sure to do if you do not give considerable thought to this matter. There should be orderliness and system in the garden as well as in the house, and this can only come by knowing your plants, and so locating them that each one of them will have the opportunity of making the most of itself.
Beds can be spaded as soon as the frost is out of the ground, as advised in the chapter on The Garden of Annuals, but, as was said in that chapter, it is not advisable to do more with them at that time. If the ground is worked over when wet, the only result is that you get a good many small clods to take the place of large ones. Nothing is gained by being in a hurry with this part of the work. Pulverization of the soil can only be accomplished successfully after it has parted with the excessive moisture consequent on melting snows and spring rains. Therefore let it lie as thrown up by the spade until it is in a condition to crumble readily under the application of hoe or rake.
Shrubs can be reset as soon as frost is out of the ground. Remove all defective roots when this is done. Make the soil in which you plant them quite rich, and follow the instruction given in the chapter on Shrubs as carefully as possible, in the work of resetting.
If any changes are to be made in the border, plan for them now. Decide just what you want to do. Don’t allow any guesswork about it. If you “think out” these things the home grounds will improve year by year, and you will have a place to be proud of. But the planless system which so many follow never gives satisfactory results. It gives one the impression of something that started for somewhere but never arrived at its destination.
Old border plants which have received little or no attention for years will be greatly benefited by transplanting at this season. Cut away all the older roots, and make use of none that are not strong and healthy. Give them a rich soil. Most of them will have renewed themselves by midsummer.
If you do not care to take up the old plants, cut about them with a sharp knife, and remove as many of the old roots as possible. This is often almost as effective as transplanting, and it does not involve as much labor.
The lawn should be given attention at this season. Rake off all unsightly refuse that may have collected on it during winter. Give it an application of some good fertilizer. It is quite important that this should be done early in the season, as grass begins to grow almost as soon as frost is out of the ground, and the sward should have something to feed on as soon as it is ready for work.
Go over all the shrubs and see if any need attention in the way of pruning. But don’t touch them with the pruning knife unless they really need it. Cut out old wood and weak branches, if there are any, and thin, if too thick, but leave the bush to train itself. It knows more about this than you do!
Get racks and trellises ready for summer use. These are generally made on the spur of the moment, out of whatever material comes handiest at the time they are needed. Such hurriedly constructed things are pretty sure to prove eyesores. The gardener who takes pride in his work and his garden will not be satisfied with makeshifts, but will see that whatever is needed, along this line, is well made, and looks so well that he has no reason to be ashamed of it. It should be painted a dark green or some other neutral color.
Rake the mulch away from the plants that were given protection in fall as soon as the weather gets warm enough to start them to growing. Or it can be dug into the soil about them to act as a fertilizer. Get it out of sight, for it always gives the garden an untidy effect if left about the plants.
Go over the border plants and uproot all grass that has secured a foothold there. A space of a foot should be left about all shrubs and perennials in which nothing should be allowed to grow.
If any plants seem out of place, take them up and put them where they belong. If you cannot find a place where they seem to fit in, discard them. The garden will be better off without them, no matter how desirable they are, than with them if their presence creates color-discord.
Peonies can be moved to advantage now. If you cut about the old clump and lift a good deal of earth with it, and do not interfere with its roots, no harm will be done. But if you mutilate its roots, or expose them, you need not expect any flowers from the plant for a season or two.
Get stakes ready for the Dahlias. These should be painted some unobtrusive color. If this is done, and they are taken proper care of in fall, they will last for years. This is true of racks and trellises.
Provide yourself with a hoe, an iron-toothed rake, a weeding-hook, a trowel for transplanting, a wheel-barrow, a spade, and a watering-pot. See that the latter is made from galvanized iron if you want it to last. Tin pots will rust out in a short time.
Take your watering-pot to the tinsmith and have him fit it out with an extension spout—one that can be slipped on to the end of the spout that comes with the pot. Let this be at least two feet in length. This will enable you to apply water to the roots of plants standing well back in the border, or across beds, and get it just where it will do the most good, but a short-spouted plant will not do this unless you take a good many unnecessary steps in making the application.
Be sure to send in your orders for seed and plants early in the season. Have everything on hand, ready for putting into the ground when the proper time comes to do this.