This section is from the book "Flower Gardening", by H. S. Adams. Also available from Amazon: Flower gardening.
Too many there are who look out of the window of a February day and sigh: "Oh, I wish that spring would come, so that I might work in the garden again." Not so the wise gardener. Already be is up and doing; for he knows full well that spring, so far as its particular garden chores is concerned, is then at hand.
There are February days when little or no snow lies on the frozen ground. Then is a good time to spread on it some manure, to be soaked into the soil by later snows. If it has to be wheeled, or carted, over the lawn it can be done at that time without ruts being left on the turf. Where plants are green above ground, as not a few perennials are, place the manure around them, not on them.
In February, too, take the pruning shears, outdoors between snows and cut off from the shrubs branches that the winter storms have broken, or any that show unmistakeable signs of being dead. Throw them into a wheelbarrow as you go along, to save a second handling, and at the same time gather up fallen twigs and other refuse; then make a pile of the rubbish in a suitable place for the first spring bonfire. In your garden wanderings look for the green spears of the snowdrops; if they show, favor them by pushing aside a bit their blanket of dead leaves.
March is the best time for pruning all of the roses but the teas, which can go until April. If large blooms are wanted, cut the canes of hybrid perpetuals back to within six or eight inches of the grounds. Only a few "eyes" are required and it is best to let the top one on each cane be an outside one in order that the growth may be outward and give a spread to the bush. Cut off at the base all weak and dead canes; also any that come from below the graft. Bushes of such old roses as Madame Plantier, Damask and Har-ison's Yellow need have only the dead wood cut out unless the branches crowd each other too closely. For the climbers the same, but weak side shoots, dead cane ends and all wood that has lost its usefulness for blooming ought to be removed. Have the wheelbarrow at hand to receive all cuttings and dump them at once on the bonfire heap. When pruning roses always wear gloves.
There will also be some pruning of shrubs and vines to do in March. The shrub rule is to prune in spring only those that bloom late in the season— Hydrangea paniculata, for example. Live wood taken from the spring-blooming shrubs, such as forsythia, weigela and deutzia, only robs the season of a part of its flowers. Vines that make an exceedingly vigorous growth each year, like Clematis paniculata, are usually pruned very severely.
"It is in the springtime that bulbs are of the most value in the garden. At that time of the year they are simply invaluable".
Crocuses, Scilia sibirica, glory-of-the-snow and the common coltsfoot need a little watching in March, that their bloom may not flash in the pan because of too much covering.
Burn up in March all rubbish, including any rakings, that may have been gathered; if it is dry, it is quickly disposed of and is that much out of the way. The village fire rule of making a bonfire not less than thirty feet from a building is a good one. If the wind is toward a building even twice that distance away, or is blowing very strong in any direction, wait for a more favorable day.
A dry pile of rubbish may be started by thrusting a crumpled sheet or two of newspaper under the bottom on the windward side and touching a match to it. When there are green twigs to be burned, it is better to make a more careful job of it. Put some paper and dry grass on the ground and then the dry twigs and wood on top. Add only a portion of the green stuff, or there will be too much smoke, and feed the remainder when the fire is burning briskly. Throw on whatever rubbish the house and barn hold. And never let the fire go long unwatched; not at all if children are about.
Look over the garden tools; sharpen the old ones and order the new ones, that April may find nothing unready. In odd moments cut stakes of various kinds and make or repair trellises.
On the first day of April, some years a little earlier, it is safe to uncover the flower beds in gardens as far north as Connecticut. It is better for the plants, and easier for you, to do this gradually. The point is to give light and air to plants that have begun to grow, thus preventing the blanching that weakens shoots and foliage. Begin by lifting leaves or other covering from the top of plants like grass pinks that remained above ground all winter and from bulbs that are piercing the soil.
Use the hands if there is little to do; if there is much, take an iron rake and draw off gently, taking care that the teeth do not sink deep enough to tear creeping plants or root up the little fellows. Carry all coarse stuff, like stalks, to the bonfire, but give the leaves, which have not begun to lose their usefulness, to the compost heap.
Take off from time to time the litter between the plants or, if well rotted and there is plenty of space, work it into the ground. This is readily done with roses and peonies, for both of which the leaves in the soil will be very beneficial. Leaving some of the litter between plants serves to keep the ground warm. It is nature's way and is not necessarily untidy. If plants need to be coddled, a little pile of litter may be left near them against cold April nights; some gardeners invariably do this with tulips and hyacinths. In such cases, of course, the covering must be taken off . the next morning unless the weather is extremely severe. Few hardy plants, however, are injured by April cold; bleeding heart, astilbe, crown imperial and some of the lilies, which have tender shoots, are exceptions. The greater danger is too much protection once growth has set in.
One reason why so many plants "winter kill" is because they are murdered in spring. Each, if it disappears for the winter, has its own time to show itself, and unless its precise location is remembered—which ought to be the case—it is unsafe to put an implement into the soil, lest something be beheaded and, lacking the strength, fail to rise to the occasion a second time.