Ask the Gardener: Stay out of the garden, get in spring mind-set

Ask the Expert Gardening
A colorful display at the 2017 Boston Flower Show.
A colorful display at the 2017 Boston Flower Show. Chris Russell/Paragon Group Exhibitions & Services

One of the gifts of living in New England is sharing the mass euphoria that greets a spring thaw like the 70-degree day we had two weeks ago. People were practically dancing in the streets. Unfortunately, that was followed immediately by fierce nor’easters that downed trees and churned up damaging storm surges. I often feel climate change is most apparent in spring, which this year is running 20 days ahead of schedule in some areas of the country, according to the National Phenology Network. The whipsawing weather fools both plants and us humans into breaking out of our winter dormancy too early.

So what do you do when you’ve got spring fever and it’s still winter? I am restarting this garden column again after a few months off, and that means you can once again send your garden questions to I will e-mail back and run questions of general interest in the column.

What should you be doing now? Well, it’s still too early to plant anything, even seeds. But cleaning up after winter and its storms will get you working outdoors. Your municipality will have cut up and removed trees blocking roadways. Most people hire a contractor, landscapers, or a tree removal specialist to remove fallen ones from their property. If you have a chain saw and want to attack this job yourself, proceed with caution (AND goggles, a helmet, hearing protection, gloves, and steel-toed boots). This can be dangerous work. Also wood needs aging in a woodpile for at least a year before burning, and wide pieces require splitting. Check whether your town’s department of public works allows outdoor burning, and get all necessary permits before starting a bonfire. Many towns have special collection days for yard waste. You may have to cut up fallen branches to a minimum length for curbside collection. If you are hiring pros, this may also be a good time to have dead and dying trees removed before they fall onto buildings. Ash trees, which are undergoing a mass die-off, can rot and fall within two years. Stronger wood, such as dead oaks, can stand for decades, providing valuable housing and food for wildlife such as woodpeckers. I let dead trees stand as long as possible if they are too short or far from buildings to pose an obvious threat.

Here are other ways to summon the elusive spirit of spring:

Hit the Flower Show

A vendor talks with a patron at the Boston Flower & Garden Show last year. The show will be held March 14-18 at Seaport World Trade Center. —Chris Russell/Paragon Group Exhibitions & Services

“Savor Spring!’’ is the theme of the Boston Flower & Garden Show, which runs Wednesday, March 14, through Sunday, March 18, at Seaport World Trade Center. “As winter wanes, our designers and presenters will whet your appetite for the sumptuous joys of the spring season ahead,’’ said Carolyn Weston, longtime show director. Producer Paragon Group Exhibitions & Services helps continue the traditions of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which traces the roots of this show to its founding in 1829. Look for displays of blooming indoor landscapes, elegant flower arrangements, floral art and photography, and expert lectures on how to grow your own food and flowers. A ton of vendors will cater to garden shoppers. Adult admission: $20, or $15 after 5 p.m., and free for Massachusetts Horticultural Society members. For more information, visit or call 617-385-4900.

Go to a greenhouse

The Spring Bulb Show at the Botanic Garden of Smith College is in bloom now through Sunday, March 18, on the Northampton campus. This noncommercial century-old event is a flower bomb of more than 5,000 tulips, lilies, hyacinths, irises, and African bulbs coaxed into simultaneous bloom in a beautiful antique greenhouse. Suggested $5 donation. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with extended evening hours to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday during the show. For more information, visit or call 413-585-2740.

Closer to Boston, in Waltham, Historic New England’s Lyman Estate has camellias blooming in one of the country’s oldest greenhouse complexes. Horticultural experts there (at 185 Lyman St.) can answer your questions or sell you a plant on Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Spring Orchid Sale runs April 6-8 and the Herb Sale is May 4-6. Admission is free. Call 617-994-5913 or visit

Go to a workshop

Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale is an incredible resource that offers many top-notch classes and lectures. For example, you can learn how to create an orchard in a small yard on Saturday, March 24, from 9 to 11 a.m. Registration ($30) is required at or call 617-384-5277.

On that same day at 10 a.m., Claudia Thompson, founder of Grow Native Massachusetts, will talk about “Gardening with Native Plants: Why it Matters’’ at the Boston Public Library’s Roslindale Branch (4246 Washington St.). For more information e-mail or call 781-790-8921.

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