It's been a long, cold winter and we'd all like it to be an early, warm spring. But temperatures -- not the calendar -- determine when we can get started on most lawn and garden chores. Here's a list of seasonal don'ts (plus a few things you can do now).
Put off raking your grass until your lawn feels firm underfoot. If it's still soft and squishy, it would be best to stay off it as much you can. If you rake too early, you can damage the fragile crowns of grass and compact the soil. You'd be wise to wait until the soil is firm to seed bare spots, too.
Don't fertilize until the grass is actively growing and has been mowed at least once. (If you fertilized twice in the fall, as experts recommend, you shouldn't have to fertilize this spring.)
Remove mulch gradually, but only as it thaws. The straw, hay or dried leaves you placed around your plants to protect them from the winter cold also protects them from the fluctuating temperatures that are a signature of spring in Minnesota. If the mulch around your perennials, shrubs and trees is completely thawed, you can pull some of it away from the base of your plants, but leave a couple of inches on the ground. That will help hold in moisture and keep some weed seeds from sprouting.
You can prune summer-flowering shrubs that bloom on new wood (such as some hydrangeas, spireas and shrub roses), but don't prune spring-flowering shrubs (lilacs, azaleas, forsythias) until they've finished blooming. If you prune now, you'll remove this year's flowers.
Early spring is a great time to start a compost pile, install a rain barrel, get your lawn mower tuned and clean and sharpen your garden tools.
And if you simply must get your fingers in the dirt, pot up some pansies. (They're available at many garden centers already.) They can tolerate a light frost, but you'd be wise to plant them in a smallish container that you can easily move indoors if the temps take a dive.