What you can be doing in late winter and early spring to get ready for the season
Prune Trees and Shrubs
There are many trees and shrubs for which late winter is the perfect time to prune, specifically while plants are still dormant and weeks before leaf and flower buds begin to swell. Plus despite the generally seasonal cold weather, there are often nice sunny days, which make for pleasant time spent outdoors. Winter pruning is a great time to prune to improve the shape or structure of a plant since it is easier to see the branching structure without all the leaves to contend with.
The best candidates for late winter/early spring pruning are deciduous trees and shrubs that do not flower in early spring, shade trees, fruit trees, and evergreen trees. Winter pruning of early spring bloomers such as forsythia, lilac, and azalea risk-reducing spring flower displays by pruning dormant flower buds that were formed last summer and should be pruned just after flowering. Start with any dead, damaged, or diseased parts. Next move to any crowded, overlapping, or branches growing in wrong or bad locations. If pruning for size, be careful not to take off more than 1/3 of the plant. Large limbs or heavy overhead branches may be best left to a professional. Clean your tools with diluted solutions of rubbing alcohol or bleach between each plant to avoid spreading disease from plant to plant.
Start Cool Weather Veggie Seeds
Late Winter/Early spring is the time to start sowing cool vegetable seeds indoors. Cool-weather vegetables such as onions, spinach, peas, kale, broccoli, and cabbage all can be planted outdoors 4-6 weeks before the spring frost date, which in the Philadelphia area is around the end of April. Other vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers & eggplants need more than the typical 6 weeks to grow to a plantable seedling. Check seed packets for exact sowing time recommendations for the specific varieties you are thinking about planting. Regardless of what you are growing, late winter/early spring is the time to start planning your vegetable garden and to begin dreaming about all that fresh produce you will be harvesting soon!
Apply Horticultural and Dormant Oils
Newer horticultural oils have been formulated to be lighter and can be sprayed during the growing season. Dormant Oils are horticultural oils that are sprayed during the winter and early spring months when plants are dormant (hence the name) and before deciduous plants’ bloom or leaf buds swell. The oils work by suffocating insects and insect eggs that may be hiding on the surface of trunks, stems, and branches and work best when used early when insects are in their egg or early larval form. It is often used to treat scale and mites, which are particularly difficult insects to control. Backyard orchardists may want to consider spraying certain fruit trees early to help cut off some of the later season pests.
Horticultural oils are mixed with water and sprayed using a hose-end or pump sprayer. Start spraying at the topmost branches and move slowly to cover the entire plant and any crevices. Typically oils can be applied when the daily temperatures are above 40°F and there is no rain or strong winds in the next 24-hour forecast. Dormant oils are not toxic and are considered safe to use to be used on edibles and around humans and pets. Be careful to read all directions and warnings prior to use.