Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

Spring is Confusing…

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Spring blooming squill- photo from Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County

Spring in Nebraska is a very confusing time of year for most gardeners.  We get teased with the nice weather for a few days, only to have snow or cold temperatures snap us back into the reality of living in this wonderful state.  There are a few tasks that should be completed in the “spring” of the year, others need to be put on hold for just a little longer. 

Cutting back perennials-The perennials that stood strong over the winter, like ornamental grasses and butterfly bush, need to be cut back to encourage the best growth for this coming year.  Big bluestem, fountain grass, and other ornamental grasses need to be cut back at the first sign of new growth.  The species determines the height, but a good rule of thumb is to cut back to about 12 inches high.  Butterfly bush and other herbaceous perennials should also be cut back when they show signs of growth.

Removing mulch– Strawberries, roses, chrysanthemums, and other tender plants needed to be protected from the fluctuating temperatures with winter mulch.  If the mulch is removed too soon, it could cause new growth to form on the plant too early.  This growth is susceptible to damage caused by cold temperatures.  Try and delay the removal of mulch as long as possible, but be sure it is removed before new growth begins.  If warm temperatures cause new plant growth, rake the mulch to the side.  If freezing temperatures are forecasted, the mulch can easily be put back on the plants for protection.  Continue to do this until the threat of frost has past, which is usually around Mother’s Day.

Pruning Roses– Don’t give in to the temptation.  Hold off on pruning those roses a little while longer.  Before you do take the pruning tools to the roses, it is important to know what type of rose you have as this can affect how you prune.  Hardy shrub roses can be pruned in March, but it is best to wait as long as possible.  Ideally, hardy shrub roses should be pruned after the new growth emerges.  Pruning too early poses a serious risk to winter injury when there is a cold snap or snow event after pruning.  Hold off pruning hybrid tea roses until late April if at all possible.  They aren’t as hardy as the shrub roses and they can have more significant die back after a cold snap if pruned too early in the season.

Planting gardens– Cool season crops (like peas, broccoli, and radishes) can be planted in the garden as early as April 1st and as late as May 10th.  Warm season crops (tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) shouldn’t be planted outdoors in the garden until around May 10.  If you are starting warm season crops indoors, it will take about 6-8 weeks to get transplants to the proper size.  Count backward 6-8 weeks from May 10, our average frost free date, warm season crops should be started indoors around March 22nd.  Keep in mind these are just guidelines.  Technically, warm season crops can be planted in the garden earlier, but you have to remember we live in Nebraska and there isn’t any guarantee for a ‘normal’ spring.  If you want to roll the dice and plant in the garden earlier, plan accordingly by planting the transplants earlier, but be prepared for Nebraska’s weather.

Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at, her blog at, or HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter.

Spring is Confusing (PDF)


Author: Elizabeth Exstrom

A Nebraska Extension Educator out of Hall County with a focus in horticulture and sustainable landscapes.

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