Continue garden cleanup, pruning before planting season

Spring is prep time for gardeners, ahead of the busy planting season.

If you’ve ordered bare-root plant material, please unpack it as soon as it arrives in the mail. I’d check to make sure the packing around the roots is moist and store the plants until they’re ready to go outside in a cool place that won’t freeze. It’s a good idea to soak the roots of trees and shrubs in water for a short period of time before planting. Don’t let the roots dry out. You don’t have to prune to compensate for transplant shock; prune only broken branches and roots before planting.

With the warmer weather, gardens are blooming faster than they did last year. You might want to finish cutting back perennials and cleaning up garden debris, even though the rainy weather has been delaying work outside.

It’s best to cut back perennials before they start growing to minimize any possible damage to the new growth. It can be hard to see new growth on ornamental grasses, so I’d cut them back before consistent warm weather sets in. Ornamental grasses in your garden are likely growing, so cut them a few inches above the ground to avoid the new shoots.

Please keep an eye out for any bulbs that have started growing. I’d avoid or minimize walking on wet ground. Soil usually takes longer to dry out during the cooler spring temperatures than in summer.

It’s time to uncover hybrid roses by carefully removing mulch from the base. You can use a bamboo stake to do so. I’d suggest leaving a bit of mulch at the base for protection in case of a late hard freeze. Keep your eye on the weather forecast and adjust your timing as needed, if any extended cold periods are predicted. I’d prune these roses back to live growth, which in some years may leave only 1 to 2 inches of stem.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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