Late February – Signs of Spring

Late February – Signs of Spring

This morning I walked around my yard looking for signs of spring. I saw several, and also noticed some things that will need taking care of in the coming month of March. Here are a few things I saw that you might be wondering about too.

The 'Arnold's Promise' witch hazel is in bloom! Despite our cold winter this plant is right on schedule in my yard. Some people mistake this witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ) for an early-flowering Forsythia. The Hamamelis flowers are fragrant and always appear in winter, not early spring. Some varieties even start to bloom in December! 'Arnold's Promise' was introduced by the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, so you know it's a variety that does well in Massachusetts.

The spring flowering bulbs are pushing out of the ground even though it's still frozen. Sometimes people get concerned that such early growth will be damaged by the cold but there is no reason for concern. Spring bulbs often show new growth in the winter and periodic sub-freezing temperatures don't hurt the leaves or developing flowers.

This photo shows two things for the early March to-do list: pruning back the butterfly bush (foreground) and cutting down the old grasses (background.) Both tasks can be done any time it's pleasant to be outside in March. Cut the butterfly bush stems down to about 12 inches tall. Cut the grasses down to 3 to 6 inches tall. Both plants should be trimmed down before the end of March.

The stems on a high bush blueberry are bright red at this time of year, and the buds are swelling. March is the month to prune your blueberry bushes and this photo shows what to cut. You want to trim the oldest canes down hard - on this shrub the older branches are tan and the younger ones are reddish, so it's easy to see which ones to cut! I've marked where I will prune these stems with green arrows. After taking off a third of the oldest stems, remove any broken branches (snow!) and if you see any crossed branches remove one of them so you won't have stems rubbing against each other. After that, stand back and enjoy your blueberry plants.

The Pieris (aka andromeda) has red buds at this time of year that will open in March or April to fragrant white or pale pink flowers. See the browning on the leaves toward the bottom of the picture? That's winter damage and this will become more noticeable as spring advances. You are likely to see similar damage on Rhododendrons as well, but it's normal, especially after a dry summer (2013) and cold winter. The plant will drop any severely damaged leaves once it starts to grow in the spring.


Finally, I see some shrubs that have broken branches and/or are still smashed by mounds of snow. If they are still frozen into the snowbanks leave them until the white stuff melts and releases the stems. At that point you can better access the damage. Prune off any cracked or broken stems to get a clean cut. If a plant has been pushed to an angle and you'd like to see it upright again, pull it vertical with a soft cord attached to a stake, but make a note on your calendar to remove that support in mid-summer. Sometimes people forget about staking and then the cords end up doing more damage than the snow.

Once the snow melts go out and see what’s happening in your yard. The birds are singing their spring songs and the plants are showing us that winter is almost over.



  1. Wendy Paquette on February 27, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I love all the suggestions and the thought that spring is right around the corner! You say to cut the butterfly bush stems down to 12″ so what you are saying is to cut the whole bush down, correct? My bush is about 7′ tall, much too bushy in my mind. Thanks for your help!

    • CLFornari on February 27, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      I’m glad you love this post, Wendy! Yes, I’m saying to cut the entire bush down. This is called a “renovation pruning” and the butterfly bush is one of the only shrubs that should get this treatment every year. If you cut your plant down to about 12″ it will still grow to 5 or 6 feet tall next summer. The good thing is that it keeps the plant from getting too leggy and producing all the flowers up where we can’t see them!

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