This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
I always feel bad sending out a list of chores this month. Somehow it feels like we should be taking this month off and for the most part we probably can, but just in case you didn’t finish the tasks you should have accomplished in November, here are some thoughts to keep you busy…
WINTER PROTECTION: So far we have had a very mild fall/winter. Even this week, despite being below freezing for several nights, isn’t in any way what I would consider a “hard freeze” and certainly not an “Arctic Blast.” But rest assured, sooner or later it will come and we should be ready to provide a little extra protection to broadleaf evergreens, like camellias, if we want to see pretty flowers in early spring. Have some kind of frost blanket ready to go if the mercury drops into the low 20 or high teens and doesn’t go above 32 during the day.
GENERAL CLEANUP: I always approach winter clean up in stages. By now most of my perennials have been cut back, with the exception of my various varieties of maiden grasses, which have only been cut halfway back. Like roses, I do the “hip high” in the fall and “knee high” in February technique, which is good for the plants but also gives me a different look through the winter - sort of a transition feeling between the seasons. While I usually leave most of my leaf litter on the ground until February, this mild weather has sparked me to clean up a good portion of it already, which has had the added benefit of revealing several clumps of daffodils already breaking the surface. Yes, the cycle of rebirth continues on in the garden and it is always a cause for celebration.
DISEASE AND INSECT CONTROL: Clean up all leaves under fruit trees to prevent the spread of diseases. The same holds true for roses and berries. Applying a mixture of copper and oil or sulfur and oil works well to control scab and mildew and is relatively non-toxic. Try and catch a dry day when it is above freezing to do your spraying.
PRUNING: Again, I save the “knee high” type of pruning until February, but if you have a limb that is slapping you in the face every time you go out the front door then for Pete’s sake, cut it off!
LAWNS: I know Cisco recommends a synthetic fertilizer this time of year because it is faster acting, but because I like to follow the “KISS” approach to gardening (Keep It Simple Stupid), I stick with my “one size fits all” organic lawn food and it seems to work just fine. Watch for moles this month, apply lime to sweeten the soil, and stay off the turf when it is frozen.
WEED MANAGEMENT: Now is the time to literally “nip weeds in the bud.” Remove them with a Hula Hoe (my favorite weeding tool) before they get too big and go to seed. Once the ground is clean apply a “weed preventer” (this is a product that keeps weeds seeds from germinating, but doesn’t bother plants that are already growing) and then spread a one-inch layer of compost.
WINTER INTEREST: Yes, we can plant all year long in our mild marine climate. Take a trip to the garden center to discover a whole new and exciting palette of plants that will liven up your garden through the winter. It may be just what you need to keep you out of the depths of despair.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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