Be careful when weeding this early in the season. Seedlings from last year's plants may be hiding among the weeds you're about to yank from the ground. I try to leave the previous year's plant labels in the beds, so I'll remember to watch out for seedlings. I grew love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) for the first time last year, and it's already living up to its self-seeding reputation. If you see something you think may be a desirable plant, but you're not sure, wait a while. Sometimes you hit the jackpot, and sometimes it's just another blue violet.

Find alternatives for impatiens. Downy mildew, a disease that's hard to control, has hit our region, and shade-loving, annual impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) is one of its prime victims. Many greenhouse growers and garden centers have already stopped selling the plants, or reduced the number of impatiens in their inventory. While it may be hard to imagine replacing its vibrant splashes of color, you do have options for your shady places. New Guinea impatiens, said to be resistant to downy mildew, grows as well in shade as it does in sun. A few other suggestions for shade include coleus (even the sun-loving types), wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri), annual begonia, tuberous begonia, fuchsia, edging lobelia, and sweet potato vine. It also could very well be time to consider planting more perennials.

Choose colorful annuals to hide withering bulb leaves. While flowering bulbs are a beautiful treat in early spring, the dying leaves are so unattractive. Planting annuals in front of the old foliage gives you something else to look at while the leaves do their work, storing food for next year's flowers.

Divide and conquer. Although your list of tasks may seem overwhelming right now - as mine often does - stop and take a breather. Think about dividing the work into doable chunks. The late Joanna Reed, a mentor for many gardeners here in the Philadelphia region, often quoted her farmer friend Cuffy, whose self-sustaining mantra was, "Back into your work." That way, you'll focus on what you've already accomplished, rather than what's still left to do.

Patricia Schrieber is director of education for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (www.phsonline.org), and co-owner of Valentine Gardens (www.valentine-gardens.com). Contact her at pschrieber@pennhort.org.