Start off your garden year right by laying the foundation for a great garden.

February 19, 2016
Maintain your tools.

Leaf Disposal and Tool Care -- Clean up and fix up before plants really get growing. Rake leaves, pull obvious weeds, spruce up and sharpen hand tools and power tools.

  • Take the lawn mower in for a tune-up and blade-sharpening, or do it yourself, being sure to change the oil and clean or change the filter. A great tip is to keep an extra mower blade. Blades need to be sharpened three or four times during the growing season, so you can always have one on hand while the other is at the shop -- or on your workbench.

Planting Bare-Root Trees, Shrubs and Roses -- Once the ground is well-thawed, you can plant bare-root trees and shrubs as well as bare-root roses.

Planting Trees and Shrubs -- Plant container-grown trees, shrubs, perennial herbs, ground covers, and perennial flowers as long as you're within at least one month of your region's last frost date. You can get a general idea by clicking on our map, but to find out precisely, give any local garden center a quick call.

  • If you haven't already, fill in bare spots with cool-season annuals (those annuals that thrive when temperatures are seldom lower than 35 and seldom higher than 80 or 85 F), such as pansies and snapdragons.

Pruning Roses -- Prune deciduous fruit trees and also prune roses. Spray both them with horticultural oil to prevent insect problems later.

Pruning Trees and Shrubs -- Prune trees and prune shrubs. Be careful with flowering trees and shrubs -- you don't want to trim off developing buds. But do trim late-summer or fall-blooming trees and shrubs, including abelia, mimosa, cassia, oleander, crape myrtle, princess flower (also called tibouchina), golden rain tree and hibiscus. As a rule of thumb, otherwise, prune flowering shrubs and trees within a month after they stop blooming.

Houseplant Basics -- Houseplant growth this month is slow, so don't fertilize and keep watering to a minimum. For more information, check out our houseplant basics.

  • Deadhead camellia blossoms and pick up fallen blossoms to prevent disease problems.

Start Seeds Indoors -- Start seeds indoors if you like for warm-season annuals, such as tomatoes, marigolds, peppers, cosmos, zucchini, impatiens, salvia, basil, and others. Otherwise, wait until all chance of freezing temperatures has passed and buy established seedlings at the garden center.

Fertilize Lawns -- Try our handy on-line lawn fertilizer calculator so you know exactly how much to buy and apply.

  • Cut branches from forsythia, redbud, quince, flowering cherry, pussy willows, and other spring-blooming shrubs and trees to force indoors. Simply cut branches of flowering woody plants once you can spot the tiny developing buds. Submerge the branches in cold water (like the tub) for a couple hours or up to a full day. Then stick just the ends in a bucket of cold water about a foot deep for a week in a cool (no warmer than 60 degrees F) spot. Arrange in a vase, put in a warm room, and watch the buds open over the next few days.

Garden Projects -- Now is an excellent time to start some of those garden hammer-and-nail projects you've been wanting to do -- window boxes, planters, arbors, and more. Check out for a list of dozens of garden projects.

Garden Journals -- If you haven't already, start a garden journal or file. Tuck into it names of plants you like, magazine pictures, plant labels and seeds, and anything else that suits your fancy. If you're feeling crafty, make your own journal.

Landscaping and More -- While you're doing your garden planning, check out the entire section on garden planning and landscaping at It covers everything from assessing your landscape needs to putting it down on paper to choosing the best plants for you.

Garden Plans -- For specific ideas and layout plans, go to's Garden Plans. There are a number of great combinations for everything from shade to property lines to front entries.


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