With only a forecast of showers next weekend standing between us and Spring, now's your last best chance to take care of those winter to-do items and get your garden ready for peak season.
First, cut back grasses to about 6" above ground level, to make room for the coming flush of growth. If perennials such Mexican sage are beginning to regrow from their base, cut those back as well. Woody shrubs such as Salvia greggii, hydrangeas, viburnums and dogwoods may also be showing new growth along their old branches; I trim these back to just above a new growth node about 1/2 or even 2/3 back from the ends.
Second, clear out anything that's obviously dead. Give serious thought to also removing any specimens that struggled last year: it wasn't a particularly brutal year, so anything that didn't thrive probably is in the wrong location (or receiving the wrong care) and won't do much better this year. With this riffraff gone, step back and evaluate the "bones," or basic structure, of your garden. Are there gaping holes? Overly (or underly) vigorous specimens? Poorly shaped trees or large shrubs that are blocking light, views or paths? "Dead end" views with no payoff? Make a list; I use a map of the garden with numbered items in place.
Third, revisit your garden wish list. Is there anything you wish for more of: color, fragrance, movement, wildlife? Anything you've seen in your travels -- whether plants or pots, furniture, lighting, or other ornaments -- that you'd like to try replicating at home? Again, make a list, collect pictures, and start (or update) an idea file. If possible, also identify a budget and prioritize your list into "must have," "nice to have," and "if I win the lottery" levels of importance.
Fourth, give your "tools of the trade" a checkup. Run your irrigation systems and check coverage and pressure; test hoses for leaks; check lighting systems for burned out bulbs or broken fixtures; and sharpen your shovel, spade, hoe, pruning shears, loppers, and lawnmower blades (many local hardware stores offer sharpening services). Also make sure your gloves, knee pads, hat and other gear are in good shape.
Finally, make sure your team of garden experts is at the ready. This might include a landscape designer, landscape contractor, fine gardener, arborist, irrigation specialist, and/or nursery. And if you'll be doing the work yourself, schedule a massage (or chiropractor visit) for the next day. After all, there's no reason all this work can't have its rewards.