UGJ Gardening Tips Calendar for March-April

Published in Upstate Gardener’s Journal
By Carol Ann Harlos & Lyn Chimera

The following are some general ideas for early Spring gardening. Keep in mind you have to take the weather conditions into account. Wait till the soil is above 50 degrees to try any planting.

Winter Damage:

  • Clean up and remove leaves and winter debris, which are loaded with phosphorus, from paved surfaces and drainage sewer openings. This helps preserve drainage water quality and reduce algae buildup.
  • The salt residue in areas near a road, sidewalk, or driveway that has been covered with salt laden snow can be diluted by thoroughly soaking the area a few times with a hose.
  • Snow, wind and ice can cause damage to trees and shrubs. Prune out any damaged branches.
  • Plants that have “heaved” from the freezing and thawing action of the soil should be replanted as soon as the soil is workable. A layer of leaves will help protect the exposed root mass if the soil is still frozen.


  • Early Spring is the time for pruning many trees and shrubs. The exceptions to this are ones that bloom in the spring like forsythia and lilac. These should be pruned after flowering.
  • Trees and shrubs to prune in early spring while still dormant: Bradford pear, wisteria, butterfly bush, Potentilla, Honeysuckle, flowering plum
  • Trees NOT to prune in spring: ash, oak, and elm. Birch and maple are bleeders but bleeding does not harm the tree.
  • Never “top” a tree. This produces a weak tree.
  • Fruit trees should be pruned in early spring before bud break. Pay particular attention to any twigs or branches with cankers or black knot (dark swollen galls). These should be removed and discarded before bud break.
  • Prune brambles (raspberries and blackberries) during March to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches and to increase air circulation.
  • When pruning be careful to not to cut flush to the trunk, cut outside the branch collar. For more information on proper pruning techniques contact your local CCE or check out their web information at
  • Wound dressing or paint is no longer recommended. If properly pruned the wound is best left to heal naturally.
  • Cut back and prune roses when forsythia blooms. Cut back dead or crossing canes to about one-quarter inch above an outward facing bud.
  • Cut pussy willows back drastically after they bloom to keep the plants strong. They will have more blooms next year and will be stronger plants.
  • Cut pussy willows down after flowering is complete to insure strong branches next year. •Cut back lavender into green wood late in April.
  • Complete any pruning of other shrubs before new growth starts.


  • Cut back grasses and other perennials that have been left up for winter interest. Ideally this should be done before the new growth gets more than a few inches high so you don’t damage the new growth while cutting back the old.
  • Any plant material that has not harbored disease can be put in the compost pile.
  • Once the threat of snow has passed, remove winter debris or any leftover mulch from around areas where spring bulbs are planted.
  • Hand pull emerging weeds now so you don’t disturb the roots of your emerging perennials and bulbs.
  • Wait until the soil is “workable’ to divide perennials. This means it should be above 50 degrees and dry enough not to stay in a clump when squeezed in your hand.
  • Hostas, liriope, day lilies, dicentra, choral bells and Shasta daisies are some perennials that can be divided before new growth starts in spring.
  • Scatter annual poppy seeds in the garden for bloom in June and early July.


  • Plan your vegetable garden being sure to rotate plant families.
  • Direct seed cool season vegetables and flowers when soil is suitable.
  • Check your seed packages to see whether you should start seeds indoors or direct sow them outside. Also check information on the envelopes for the appropriate number of weeks prior to planting outside.


  • Houseplants are coming to life with the increase in hours of sunlight. This is a good time to resume feeding. Natural fertilizers are preferable to synthetic ones as the nutrients aren’t bound to salts. It’s the salt that causes the white buildup on the soil and outside of clay pots.
  • Check your houseplants for disease and insects and the roots to see if they need division and/or repotting. Once the outdoor gardening season begins you will have less time for them!
  • Give houseplants a good “shower” in the sink or tub to clean off dust buildup from the winter months. For plants too large to move, give the leaves a sponge bath.
  • Prune off any dead or yellowing leaves and branches.
  • Any plants that have outgrown their pots can be repotted. If you want the plant to continue increasing in size just repot it in a larger container. If you want to keep the plant in the same size container the roots can be trimmed back.


  • Apply horticultural oil to trees and shrubs that have had past problems with piercing and sucking insects such as mites, aphids, scale, whitefly and adelgids. Carefully follow the application directions for temperature and weather conditions. If applied at the wrong time they are not effective.
  • Propagate pussy willows by making 6 to 12 inch cuttings when they first bloom. Place in water and plant when roots are well developed and the ground is warm.
  • If you didn’t clean, sharpen and check garden tools in autumn do it now. It makes a huge difference in how well they work and how long they last.
  • If your tiller doesn’t start easily in the spring move it out in the sun and cover with a black plastic bag for an hour or so. This solar heating will warm up the fluids and make starting much easier. It works for lawn mowers too!
  • Place new birdhouses outdoors and/or clean out older ones.
  • Take the time to enjoy forced branches indoors. Examples are forsythias, weigelia, and pussywillows.
  • Turn the compost pile.
  • Don’t turn over your beds just yet. The soil is simply too wet.
  • Scrub and sterilize reusable pots and seed starter trays by washing them in a dilute mixture of warm water and bleach.
  • Attend Plantasia at the Agricenter on the Hamburg Fairgrounds March 24-27.It’s a great way to get in the gardening mood!
  • Buy a notebook and record seeds planted and any other observations. You will appreciate this later.
  • Plant a tree on Friday April 29 to celebrate National Arbor Day.

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