Toss out tired plants and dried flowers and fill porch pots with spring bloomers. For two months of color, plant English primroses, forget-me-nots, Johnny-jump-ups, pansies, ranunculus, roses, snapdragons, stock, or sweet William, and add trailing foliage with English ivy or vinca. Stick a decorative spike or stake in the container, and every night prop a frost blanket on it to cover the plants, making sure the blanket doesn’t contact foliage and transfer cold temps. Add a couple of old blankets during severe freezes, and uncover whenever daytime temperatures are above freezing.
In the ground, plant seeds of beets, carrots, endive, kohlrabi, mesclun mix, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Keep the seedbed evenly moist and, as soon as the seeds germinate, mulch with 2 inches of hay or straw, adding more mulch as the seedlings grow taller. For added protection from frost, cover beds with floating row covers, removing covers from peas when flowers appear, so bees can pollinate them. These vegetables also do well in large pots or coldframes.
Plant rich, romantic blooms like Maché ranunculus. With luscious petals that look like layers of brightly pigmented tissue paper, the 4-inch-wide blooms sit atop sturdy stems and foliage. They’re available in seven colors, including the rose and purple pictured here. Find them as blooming potted plants in 4-inch containers at nurseries this month and next. Treat Maché like an annual and remove plants when blooms fade, typically as summer arrives.
To encourage bulbs to come back next year, water and fertilize them while they are in leaf and in flower. Pull off foliage only after it turns brown. Bulbs that perished over the winter (and so didn’t bloom this spring) may not have been cold-hardy, or they may have rotted in wet soil, died of drought in overly dry winter soil, or been eaten by rodents. Those that developed unusually short stems and small flowers were probably affected by spring heat waves.
When spring bulbs start blooming, it’s time to cut ornamental grasses back to within a few inches of the ground. To simplify the process, wrap a bungee cord around the clump and cut just below the cord with a sharp handsaw.
Move shrubs before new growth begins in spring to reduce the risk of transplant shock. Dig up as much of the rootball as you can and replant as soon as possible. After planting, cover rootball with several inches of mulch and keep soil evenly moist until new growth appears.