Most winters in the mid-Atlantic there will be a break with unusually warm temperatures, and after a few days there is considerable consternation amongst novice gardeners as green shoots of daffodils pop through the soil and star magnolia buds begin to swell. No harm is done, and rarely is the schedule of blooming disrupted, no matter that the worst freeze of February usually follows in a day or two.
The mildest days this winter have been quite cool, cloudy, and dreary, or sloppy with melting snow so that I am discouraged from getting a start on the spring garden projects, and there are many tasks that must be accomplished in the next weeks. In the past few days I have pruned branches that were torn from redbuds and evergreen magnolias in the recent snow, but Japanese maples and other evergreens will require further attention once footing is secure enough to climb a six foot step ladder.
Several inches of snow remain in my shady garden, blanketing piles of leaves that must be removed before perennials begin to grow in April. I raked and composted enough in November to make the paths passable, but a drift of maple leaves now covers one of the stone patios, and some small evergreens barely poke their heads above the mess. With a long history of similar neglect I know that this chore will take the better part of two warm weekends early in March, but not before, when leaves will be too wet and matted to be removed without additional strain.
Earlier in the week I carefully removed snow and leaves from the crowns of a few of the hellebores, not because this must be done, but I was anxious to see how fat the flower buds have become beneath the snow. One plump bud showed a bit of color, though it will be a few weeks before the blooms are obvious, and another week longer if temperatures are cold. After the snow has melted I will carefully remove the leaves that have accumulated around the hellebore clumps so that the tender buds are not injured.
If the foliage is ragged, which is typical for overwintered leaves of hellebores, this is the time to cut it back so that blooms are more prominent. There is no advantage in removing the leaves earlier, and the new foliage is much tidier, does not hide the blooms, and makes leaf removal much easier.
Today, winter seems to have gone on far too long, with breaks from the cold too short and infrequent, and I am anxious to move on to spring.