Roots and Shoots: Where’s My Crocus?!

By Pamela Doan

Searching for signs of spring in my yard, crocus with their delicate purple flowers are usually the first bits of color to appear. Up in my microclimate, snow still covers much of the lawn, especially the flowerbeds where the little green shoots should be coming through. Usually by this time, it’s warm enough to start clearing up the mess left over from the winter, tree branches, thick mulch covering the garlic bulbs, and the piles of shredded leaves waiting to be added to the garden. April is just around the corner and the frozen ground still holds everything in check.

Last year's crocus were blooming two weeks earlier than this year. (Photo P. Doan)

Last year’s crocus were blooming two weeks earlier than this year. (Photo P. Doan)

Impatient gardeners can get out there in the upcoming weeks to begin prepping the vegetable garden and flowerbeds. We can use the extra time to plan the planting schedule, too, if we haven’t already. Cleanup, maintenance and preparation can fill the time while we wait for the weather to cooperate.

Interestingly, while this winter has seemed to stretch on interminably and the temperature has been cruelly cold, globally it has been the eighth warmest winter on record according to data from the National Climatic Data Center. Many countries reported the warmest months on record during December through February. Our temperatures locally were comparable to normal winters in the early part of the 20th century.

In the garden, this means just a slight delay for those of us longing for early spring flowers and the sound of frogs. Here are some of the projects to get moving now.


  • Clear downed tree branches and rake off leaves from last fall.
  • If the vegetable garden wasn’t cleared out last fall, pull all dead plants and compost.
  • Evaluate trees for damaged limbs and pruning needs.
  • Don’t prune roses yet, wait for leaves to form.
  • It’s okay to shape boxwoods and cut out dead sections.
  • Too late to prune blueberries, butterfly bushes and forsythia without affecting new growth; dormant periods have passed.
  • Trees and shrubs have very specific pruning needs. Research them before attacking with shears.


  • Start a new season garden journal documenting the placement of plantings and plan to add anything new.
  • Starting your own plants from seed is rewarding and more cost-effective than buying new plants every year. Consider swapping plants with another gardener since there are usually more seeds in a packet than anyone uses.
  • Adding or expanding or cutting back on a landscape area? What will take its place or be removed? Have fun checking out plant lists for new ideas. Internet sites from cooperative exchanges or research institutions with a .org or .edu have non-commercial information that is backed by science and experimentation.
  • Right plant, right place — save yourself time and money by taking into account all of a plant’s needs for light, water, soil type and nutrients before adding it to the landscape.


  • Mulch! Add a protective layer of shredded leaves, compost or year-old shredded wood chips around the base of plants, trees and shrubs to help them hold water and equalize temperature if you haven’t already. Be careful not to place it right up against the stalk or trunk, though, which can invite pests to make themselves at home.
  • Add a couple of inches of organic matter to the vegetable garden to replenish the soil’s nutrients. It isn’t necessary to till the soil or work the mulch in, simply add it on top and plant right in.
  • Test the pH balance of the soil in the vegetable garden, flowerbeds and lawn to determine what plants need before using any additives like fertilizer then add only what is necessary to create the right environment for the plants you’re growing in the area.
  • Move plants around. Some perennials can be divided now and others can be transplanted. If you don’t need it in your landscape, offer it to a neighbor.
  • Compost perennial vegetables like asparagus and rhubarb to give them a boost before the warm weather takes hold.

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