February is here, which (hopefully) means that the end of winter is just around the corner. With that in mind, it's time to start laying ground in the garden to get ready for spring now that your tools are sharpened and your shed is organized.

Here's what we recommend you get started with in the garden this month:

Get out your pruners

The dormant season is ending, so you can start pruning and shaping trees and shrubs. Don't do this if you live in a northern region where it's much colder, or if the plants in question set their buds during the fall (or are doing so earlier). If you prune plants that have already set buds, they won't bloom because you cut most of the buds off and stressed the tree.

Not sure about how to prune? Your goal is to help plants develop even, bushy, aesthetically pleasing growth. Eliminate crossing or twisted branches, prune leggy branches, and keep your trees tightly shaped. If you do have to remove some branches with buds, you can take them indoors for forcing so you'll have something pleasant to look at while you wait for spring.

While you're pruning, look for branches that snapped or bent under heavy snow, and remove them. Also keep an eye out for plants that may have "heaved" as a result of freeze-thaw cycles. When plants heave, their rootballs lift partially out of the ground, exposing them to the weather and depriving them of nutrients. Tamp them back down and mulch to protect them.

Time to transplant

Deciduous trees, shrubs and bareroot plantings can be transplanted about now, if the weather is favorable. If your forecast is still waffling, wait — you don't want to shock plants with cold. You can also plant berries and hardy annuals or perennials. 

Indoors, you can start cuttings so they'll be ready to transplant soon. You can also start to think about starting seeds, if you have room and a grow lamp or a sunny spot in the house. Should you have a greenhouse, make sure it's tidied up for the growing season, and then you can start setting it up for seedlings and cuttings. If you don't have a greenhouse, now is a fine time to talk to a carpenter about setting one up.

If perennials appear to have bitten the dust, clip them back to the ground and compost the clippings. Give them to the end of March to show signs of life. If they haven't rebounded by then, it's time to think about replacing them.

Katie Marks originally wrote this story for Networx.com. It is reprinted with permission here.

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