After your garden has been put to rest, take advantage of a warm spell and work manure or compost into empty flower beds or into your much enjoyed vegetable garden. Working organic matter into the soil during the winter will put you ahead when gardening begins in the spring. Turning gardens in the winter will also kill overwintering insects.
This is the last call to plant spring flowering bulbs. You may find them at bargain prices because garden centers are trying to get rid of their inventory. Bulbs prefer a deep well drained soil with super phosphate worked into the soil before planting.
Between now and spring you need to spray fruit trees on a warm day with a dormant oil to control scale and other insects (eggs) which are overwintering on the tree. If you have scale insect problems on ornamentals, such as on euonymus, spray these also. Be sure to read and follow label directions on the dormant oil.
Lower limbs of young shade trees can be pruned now. Its best to prune up limbs as years pass to about 10 feet off the ground. Remember to cut close to the trunk leaving the bulge called ‘stem collar’. This bulge can be very small on young trees to a few inches in size on large trees. This stem tissue is comprised of very active plant cells which seal off open wounds in a few growing seasons. No pruning sealant is recommended.
When shopping for the perfect Christmas gift for the gardener on your list, don’t forget the wide selection of gardening related items. They include plants – both houseplants and shrubbery, as well as trees and bulbs. Gardening equipment, from shovels and pruning shears, to mini-tillers and lawnmowers, all would be welcome gifts. Then there are bird feeders, fountains and statuary, wind chimes and sundials, containers, and hoses. No gardener ever has enough books.
Keep your poinsettia fresh with even moisture and plenty of light.
During the dormant season, any plants which need to be moved from one location to another should be transplanted from now through February. Be sure to get as much of the root ball as you can, and plant as quickly as possible. Don’t allow the root system to dry out, or to be exposed to cold temperatures for too long. Don’t forget to water them in, and if natural rainfall doesn’t occur, water every two to three weeks.
You may prune hollies, cedars, magnolias, and other evergreens lightly this month to obtain foliate for holiday decorating. Be sure to prune carefully, and take some from all over the bush to keep as natural a shape as possible.
Make sure your ornamental plantings are mulched for the winter. Mulching keeps soil temperature more constant, retains moisture and helps prevent weeds. Besides that, it is more attractive than bare soil. Keep the mulch pulled back from the stem of the plant to help keep rodents away and keep air circulating around the plants. Place mulch two to three inches high throughout the beds and around trees to keep away lawnmowers and weed trimmers.
There is still time to plant pansies for winter color. Choose strong healthy plants which are in bloom, or have flower buds. Plant them in a sunny bed, fertilize and water and you can be assured of flowers all winter long. Pansies are unique in that they freeze solid, yet defrost when the sun hits them, and they bloom all winter. If you already have pansies planted, be sure to deadhead them periodically to keep them blooming. Fertilize them during periods of warmer weather throughout the winter. Pansies are heavy feeders and respond well to fertilizer.
Garden tools should be cleaned this time of year. There should be no soil left on them, and they should be oiled a little and stored in a dry place for winter.
Don’t forget about the birds. During the winter, be sure to keep fresh water and birdseed outside. There are numerous types of bird feeders and birdseed. One of the best is sunflower seeds.
If you are purchasing holiday plants or giving houseplants as gifts, be sure to protect the plant during transport home. Be sure that all plants are “sleeved” (wrapped in a paper sleeve, or protected inside a paper bag.) Tropical houseplants can suffer permanent damage even exposed to 10 minutes of freezing temperatures.
Mark Keaton - County Extension Agent Telephone: 425-2335