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Rake up leaves and dead grass.

No matter how tidy your yard and garden looked last fall, dead twigs and small branches no doubt fell over winter, and leaves from the neighbors blew in. These can be raked.

 Weather permitting, early spring is a time to begin garden and yard clean up, Richard Hentschel, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, said.

No matter how tidy your yard and garden looked last fall, dead twigs and small branches no doubt fell over  winter, and leaves from the neighbors blew in. These can be raked.

Now also is a good time to uncover plants that have been matted down and smothered by leaves. Some herbaceous ground cover plants do not deal well with being covered up when attempting to emerge. Layers of leaves hold water and can provide conditions for disease development while the weather is cool and damp.

But Hentschel recommends that you go easy on the raking so you do not dislodge or damage plants and foliage. Depending on the freeze-thaw cycle during the winter, ground covers with shallow roots may have heaved up out of the soil.

And if you did not cut down the stems and stalks of your perennial plants in the fall, now is the time to do so, allowing new sprouts to get to the sun.

But it is never a good idea to go out and work a bed in wet weather. If you take a sample of the garden soil and squeeze it and it stays together, it is too wet to work. A better day will come.

Fruit trees

Trees must be pruned annually to train branches into a scaffold pattern; it is good to get this finished by the end of March. “Usually, we can find a day or two when the fruit trees can be worked on,” he said.

Another project for fruit trees is the annual spray program, with a dormant oil recommended as soon as temperatures are above freezing for 24 to 48 hours, depending on the product’s label. This is the easiest way to control overwintering adult insect pests and egg masses, by thoroughly covering the trunk and branches where insects and eggs can be found.

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