Survey your domain. What got beaten down by the winter, or broken by the late snow? Take a good look at what's going on before you start chopping and pruning. Are you finding the 3 D's - dead, diseased, damaged? Get out your pruners and start to cut away the obviously diseased and damaged stuff, but hold back on what looks dead. Chances are good that a few more weeks of warm weather will cause buds to pop out on branches you thought were goners. If you feel you must prune, cut back a little at a time until you hit green wood.

Do the squeeze test. Before you do any digging, check the condition of your soil - working the garden when it's too wet makes for mud, and later, when it dries, cement. Grab a handful in your hand and squeeze it into a ball. If water runs out, it's obviously too wet. Now poke the ball with your finger; if it falls into pieces, you can start digging. If it stays in a lump, give it another day to dry out, and try it again. Air temps in the 50s all week have us itching to start planting, but it's the soil that really makes the decision for us. Note: If you did your homework last fall, turning in lots of organic matter when you put the garden to bed, chances are you're good to go. But until you pass this test, it's infrastructure only. Go fix a fence, but don't turn any soil.

Start the cleanup. Finally, she lets us actually do something! Bulbs are popping up all over, albeit a month later than usual; gently rake away the leaves and debris and let those babies breathe. Frosty nights and even some light snow won't hurt them now, and the sunlight will move them along a little faster. Don't waste the rakings; send them straight to the compost bin. More on that next week.

Sally McCabe is senior manager of community education at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (phsonline.org) and a co-owner of Cobblestone Krautery (www.cobblestonekrautery.com).