Our above-ground low and freezing temperatures this winter may have caused damage, injury and possibly death to some of your foundation plants. Look for signs of life by scraping a twig or stem with your fingernail. If you see green just inside the exterior, the plant has probably survived. Refrain from cutting back any plant material until you see new shoots or buds. Be cautious with pruning too early this season; we may continue to have unpredictable cold snaps. If new shoots or buds are developing, that is a positive sign. Most established bulbs should not be affected.
Spring blooming shrubs, such as loropetalums, azaleas, and forsythias will not likely have as dramatic a show as in years past. When (and if) you get flowers, you may prune lightly after the shrubs have completed their bloom cycles. Refrain from fertilizing shrubs or trees until after they begin to leaf out.
On The Ground
Flip over the compost pile. Add moisture if needed and continue to add leaf matter that you have raked from the yard.
Clean up those plant beds. Remove excess leaves, branches, cones, and those aggravating sweetgum balls, and remove new emerging weeds underneath the leaf matter.
Amending your soil around the bases of foundation plants is important: 1) remove the old mulch; 2) add a mixture of soil conditioners and decomposed compost; 3) hand-till it in and around the established plant roots, then tamp the soil; 4) replace with 2 inches of fresh mulch. Adding in a small amount of 10-10-10 granular fertilizer (slower release) with the new soil is advisable. This is a labor-intensive activity that will pay off in the long run. A soil test through your local UGA Extension office will tell you exactly how to amend your soil for what you want to plant.
Divide and transplant perennials (including ground covers, such as sedum, pachysandra, ajuga, liriope, and creeping jenny) as they emerge from the ground. Use your amended soil to give them a healthy start. Chrysanthemums should be firmly tamped into the soil; they may have heaved or pushed themselves out of the ground during the coldest months.
It’s not too late to plant new ornamental shrubs; if you still want to plant new trees, they will require extra attention from you throughout the warm months. Your 'optimal window of opportunity’ with tree planting has passed. Be mindful of watering new foundation plants regularly.
Make room and plan (but don’t yet PLANT) summer bulbs, such as cannas, dahlias, gladiolus, caladiums and colocasia. When the soil temperatures reach at least 60 degrees, you may plant. These items perform well in containers and will mix well with summer annuals.
When spring bulbs have completed their bloom cycle, cut off the flowers and stems completely but not the leaves. Don’t forget to work fertilizer into the soil for next year's blooms, after the leaves begin to die back naturally. The location of spring bulbs may be a good spot for planting your new summer annuals.
Prune to remove dead, broken or diseased branches. At any time of the year, always prune out branches that are crossing unnaturally or rubbing together. Selectively THINNING branches is encouraged for providing proper air circulation throughout the plant. This prevents future disease and pest problems. Some deciduous trees may have “water sprouts”— these are clusters of very vertical branches growing straight up. They can eventually weaken a tree and are often used by an old pruning wound. Also, prune back the “suckers” found at the bases of trunks, such as crape myrtles, maples and cherry trees. Never prune river birches or maples at this time of the year; they will produce excess sap. You can also prune needled evergreens, such as junipers, hemlocks, pines and cedars. Severely pruning Rose of Sharon shrubs now will offer stronger blooms in the summertime.
Apply pre-emergent herbicides and lime to your turf as needed. Make sure that mower blades are sharpened and lawn equipment is serviced. Remember that the timing of lawn tasks is often determined by soil temperature.
Make a design for including specific annuals that you want in landscape beds and containers before visiting your nurseries or big box stores. Select plants based on site and maintenance requirements.