What's blooming in the garden? By observing the garden throughout the seasons you can get a better sense of bloom times at your house. My Virginia Bluebells used to make a showing in mid Feb when we lived in NC, now at higher elevations and of course a more northerly latitude they bloom much later. I have a friend in Floyd, a bit higher than we are and thier bluebells bloom even earlier than ours. Why you ask? Well we have a very cooler site and less sun exposure so the ground warms much later. There is no such thing as an identical site- every garden is site specific. By keeping a journal or documenting what I see in the garden I can tell you what is blooming month by month for the last 12 years.
As I walk through the garden I found daffodils up about an inch (in the sun) no sign of them in the shady areas. Our Viburnums are beginning to bud, however the Leatherleaf Viburnum, our only semi evergreen variety is in full bud and I am hoping it hangs on until Late march when it is supposed to bloom. Daylilies were up just enough to see the blades of green as was Chamomile and fennel. With the snow and ice that is on it's way, all signs of life will be gone again. This will happen several times before spring. Plants are amazing!
Cleaning up the garden before spring -I never clean up the gardens in the winter because I leave seed producers starting for the critters. Yes we have critters in the garden; birds of course but chipmunks and lots of rabbits. you would think that a pretty day would be a good day to clean things up. Well if the ground was frozen yes it would be perfect. However if you step into the garden and the soil is soggy as it begins to thaw the last place you want to be in in the garden. If the ground is soft you will be compacting the soil and actually doing your plants a disservice as you will be changing the tilth of the soil. A compacted soil is hard on the plants roots once they begin actively growing.
A better day for this daunting task is when the ground is frozen. Yes, you will be cold but bundle up and get busy and your plants will thank you. Cut your perennials down to the ground and remove all remnants of plant material, rake off any leaf litter. However, compost all this only if you haven't had a pest problem the prior year. You don't want to add these problems to your pile.
Hopefully you will not see much new growth yet, believe me spreading mulch ( whatever type you choose) around plants after they come up, is harder than it looks. This year we are switching to pine needles for our beds since hardwood mulch in our area seems to contain so much walnut. Walnut can be a problem in the garden for many plants. In fact I am compiling a list of plants which can survive around walnuts which will be on the gardening tips page. (I should have this on the site shortly!) Yes I realize that Juglans (the item which makes walnuts so toxic) is in the roots but the bark also contains enough of the residue to cause problems too.
Pine needles are readily available these days and they break down slowly. In addition they will not acidify the gardens like mulch can and since they don't pack, water can permeate the gardens easily. No reason to add mulch to help with moisture retention if the mulch is so packed water runs off (this is a common problem with hardwood mulch.) We will shortly be spreading the needles about 8" thick so the plants will be able to come through them and as it settles they will be set for the summer.