The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Timely landscape activities

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Listen carefully and you can hear the gentle hum of pruners and rakes in movement. A couple days of warm weather and the tremors begin in many gardeners' hands. Tremors that aren't registered on the Richter scale, but on the pickup scale - the number of twig piles strategically located throughout the yard. A little warm weather ignites our spring cleaning genes and our passions to make this year better than last garden season. This is the year we will finally trim the tree that hits us in the face every time we mow or rejuvenate that ugly mess of a privet hedge. If your "honey do" list needs some entries, here are tips of what to do now in the landscape.


  • Prune trees and summer flowering shrubs while still dormant. Many shrubs can be reduced in size by using renewal or heading back methods. Sterilize tools in between each cut with ten percent bleach when pruning diseased plants. Summer flowering shrubs bloom on new wood after mid June. Renewal pruning method is the removal of the oldest stems leaving the younger stems to develop. Wait to prune lilacs and forsythia after they bloom.
  • If needed, rejuvenate shrubs such as Anthony Waterer spirea, honeysuckle, redtwig dogwood and privet by cutting stems down to 4 to 6 inches.
  • Transplant or plant trees and shrubs. Plants preferring spring transplant over fall include most oak, birch, baldcypress, dogwood and magnolia.
  • Inspect trees with a past history of tent caterpillar. Look for dark brown or gray egg masses that encircle the twig. Destroy by pruning or scratching off with thumbnail.
  • Scout for bagworm bags on evergreens especially spruce, juniper, and arborvitae. Bagworms often start in the tops of trees so remember to look up. Remove and destroy bags now. Each bag could produce hundreds of caterpillars. Sprays are ineffective until mid to late June.
  • Apply dormant oil spray to euonymus to control the insect euonymus scale. Dormant oil sprays will also give partial control of pine needle scale. Temperatures should be above freezing for 24 hours after spraying.
  • Some scale species such as oystershell scale are not controlled by dormant oil sprays. Get accurate identification of insect to determine control program.


  • Clean up any plant debris that wasn't removed last fall.
  • Cut back ornamental grasses to 4-6 inches before growth starts. The cool season grasses such a Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora) green up quickly in spring so don't wait. The popular Miscanthus cultivars are warm season grasses so a little more time is available to prune them.
  • Late March – early April gradually pull back mulch from roses.
  • Be on the look out for rabbit damage on newly emerging perennials and spring bulbs. Fencing or inverted wire mesh baskets provide the only complete protection. Repellants may give some control.


  • Wait until broadleaf weeds are actively growing before treating with postemergence herbicides.
  • Get lawn mower ready. Sharpen blades, change oil and clean air filter.
  • Wait until late April to early May for first fertilizer application.
  • Rake up any twigs and debris.
  • Wait until April to apply crabgrass control otherwise a second application may be necessary to control late season crabgrass seed germination.
  • Establish lawns by sod throughout season as long as adequate water is available.
  • Establish or renovate turf by seed. Prepare soil properly and get good seed to soil contact. Select turf mixes and blends appropriate to the site and to maintenance practices. Southern Illinois – March; Central Illinois – March15-April 15; Northern Illinois – April.


  • Scout late March and into April for winter annual weeds such as henbit, chickweed and creeping speedwell. Remove before flowering or seed set.
  • Order seeds and garden plants.
  • Harvest finished compost from compost pile to use in planting holes.
  • Sharpen tools for less strenuous gardening.

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