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Take advantage of milder days
Force branches. Once spring-blooming branches start to develop the tiniest buds, cut them and bring them indoors for forcing. These include forsythia, redbud, pussy willow, crabapple and more. Just soak the branches in a tub of cold water for a few hours, then arrange in a vase and watch them open over the next several days.
Prune. In the southern Midwest, the occasional mild day is a good time to prune most trees and shrubs. (Wait with roses until tiny red buds that will turn into stems start to shoot out.)
Think about a cold frame. It's a great way to get a head start on sowing lettuces, spinaches, radishes and more! See the link below for instructions to help you build a simple version.
Pictured: Pussy willow branches and mums.
Get tools and supplies ready
Tidy your tool area. Now is a good time to clean up and organize your garden tools and any tool shed or potting area you have.
Take inventory. Look over your garden supplies, such as fertilizers, potting soil, soil amendments and other garden materials. Stockpile now so you'll be ready to go once the spring rush hits.
Sharpen and repair hand tools. In the southern Midwest, give your lawn mower a tune-up or take it in for servicing. Don't forget to sharpen the blade, too.
Wash pots. Use hot, soapy water and rinse so they're set for spring planting.
Plan and purchase for spring
Visit a botanical garden. Give yourself a dose of warmth and humidity by visiting an indoor public garden near you. You'll get some ideas for your spring garden, too.
Corral your ideas into a garden notebook that will be handy for toting to the garden center come spring. Dedicate pages for notes and photos of favorite ideas. Include pocket folders for articles and notes, and a zip pocket to hold spring receipts and plant labels.
Make online and mail-order purchases early. Supplies of the most popular items tend to start running out in March or so.
Pictured: Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago.
Start seeds of slower-growing plants, such as parsley and onions. Don't be tempted to start other seeds too early (follow label directions or read up on them online). If you jump the gun on planting seeds, the seedlings will languish indoors too long without the powerful natural sun and get leggy and diseased. The vast majority of seeds should be started 6 to 8 weeks before your region's last average frost date. For most of the Midwest, that means starting seeds in March.
Boost humidity around houseplants. Misting doesn't help, but a tray filled with pebbles and a quarter inch or so of water will be most appreciated. Also, turn up your humidifier as high as you can (without creating condensation on windows). Both people and plants will feel better for it!
Evaluate houseplants. If they're struggling, it's probably time to pitch them and replace them as needed. Otherwise, give plants a good rinse in the kitchen sink or shower, trim off brown or problem parts, and top off the soil with fresh potting mix. But don't fertilize houseplants this month. With less daylight, their need for food is reduced.
Check on bulbs that you are forcing. Keep soil lightly moist. And once the bulbs have sent up shoots a half-inch to 1 inch high, take them out and put them in the sunniest, brightest spot possible.
Check on bulbs or corms you dug up and have in storage. If you dug up some tender bulbs last fall to store over the winter, uncover and examine them. They should be firm and healthy looking. If any are shriveled or mildewed, pitch them now.