If there are warm periods in early spring, bulbs may sprout prematurely, especially those planted with a southern exposure close to a house or garage.
Leaves of bulbs emerge first, with flower buds appearing much later. Cold weather might damage the edges of above-ground foliage, but unless the flower bud has appeared, the cold will not affect the future flowering or health of the bulb.
A few kinds of small, early bulbs can tolerate a bit of frost. They include winter aconite and glory-of-the-snow, as well as snowdrops. The Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe has on occasion had snowdrops in flower in late February--although not this year with the cold weather and extensive snow cover.
Protect your plants
After the difficult winter, deer and rabbits may be more aggressive in looking for plants to eat. Protect emerging tulips by spraying them with a repellent or covering with netting.
Repellents will need to be reapplied after rain. Netting will need to be adjusted as bulbs grow and may need to be weighted down to keep from blowing away. There are some bulbs that animals typically do not eat, such as daffodils, Siberian squill and ornamental onions.
Sharpen your tools
New spades and shovels do not come with a sharp edge, so use an electric hand grinder to sharpen them, as well as your old tools. It is much easier to garden with sharp equipment.
With gentle pressure, move the grinder back and forth across the edge of the spade at a consistent angle to create a bevel. Spades that have very thick edges or that are corrugated tend to require more pressure on the grinder to make progress on sharpening.
Try not to hold the grinder in one place too long to avoid an excessive buildup of heat that can cause the metal to turn black. I prefer to sharpen the inside edge of the spade.
Wear ear and eye protection while doing this work, as there will be a lot of noise and sparks.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.