Ugly, dark gray snow and the feeling that winter is definitely outstaying its welcome. That’s February for you, at least where I come from. But this much-maligned month also brings the first snowdrops, shyly peeping out from the slush. The sight — or even the thought — of flowers gives a little hope that spring will eventually come along. In the meantime, fight those February blahs by taking the first steps toward a glorious garden.

Plan your garden
Don’t just sit there. Start daydreaming … er ... planning. All kidding aside, planning your garden is an essential stage in the process. Whether you draw a rough sketch on a sheet of paper or take advantage of the latest, greatest garden planning app, it’s important to know which plants should go where. Consider factors such as your Plant Hardiness Zone, the amount of sun and shade in your yard, the soil quality, and how much time you will be able to spend caring for your plantings. Think about what plants will bring you the most pleasure, as well. If you’d love a gorgeous garden but don’t have the time or inclination to DIY, February is the perfect time to book a landscaping service to tend your yard.

Start your seedlings part 1: Prepare your supplies
Get a jumpstart by germinating seeds indoors, so that they’ll be ready for transplant right after the last frost of the season. Gather supplies: Seeds or cuttings from healthy plants, sterile growing medium, and containers. You will get the most reliable results from seeds which are fresh this year or which have been stored in cool, dry conditions. Pamper your seedlings-to-be with the right stuff — either a commercial seed-starting compound or your own soil-less homebrew of vermiculite and peat moss. Skip the fertilizer for now. Select small clean, well-draining containers that are 2.5 to 3 inches deep; when reusing plant pots, disinfect them beforehand with a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Containers crafted from recycled newspaper are a green way to start off your greenery.

Start your seedlings part 2: Sow the seeds
Check the seed packets for instructions individualized to suit each species. Generally, seeds should be placed in a container two-thirds full of slightly moist growing medium and well covered with more of the compound to a depth of about 1 to 1 ˝ times the seed’s diameter. Not all the seeds are going to sprout, so be generous and add 3 or 4 to each pot; this is especially recommended when you are gardening with children, who are going to be very disappointed if no teeny green, leaves appear. Label the containers to help you keep track of what’s what, set all your pots on a tray, and top with a deluxe custom fitted plastic dome or a plain old recycled plastic bag (don’t let anybody tell you it has to be elegant, as long as it’s translucent). Coddle them away from direct sunlight at a cozy 65-70 degrees, on top of your refrigerator or near a heater if your house thermostat is set low. Then wait for the miracle to happen.

Prune outdoor growth
Outdoors, it’s time to think about cutting back your trees and shrubs. There are several good reasons to do this as winter breathes its last. Prune just as the dormant season ends to promote vigorous new growth in the spring. You should also take this opportunity to shape your shrubbery by taking off any unsightly or overly “leggy” branches. Finally, it’s important to hire an expert to remove limbs (or even entire trees) that were severely damaged by wintry winds and snowstorms. These are in danger of falling and are especially hazardous if they are close to your roof, your driveway, or public sidewalks.

— Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.