To Do in February

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It’s February!! Those of us who are die-hard just-can’t-help-ourselves gardeners are

bluebird and box
male eastern bluebird and bluebird box. photo credit: Patricia Pierce on Flickr

nearly beside ourselves—right? I mean, we can do stuff! We can dig in the dirt (well, at least the dirt that isn’t moisture-saturated or frozen)! YEA!! Besides, it is almost March when we really get to do stuff. In addition to breaking out the shovels, rakes and hoes the chem-heads out there can start spraying and fertilizing. So, here goes. A prelude to Spring in the key of D# major.

Lawn Care
Cool season grasses (i.e. fescue and bluegrass) should be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer following the recommendation of your SOIL TEST.

Late February/early March is the best time to apply a pre-emergent crabgrass preventer. There are several easy to use granular products on the market. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label for safe and proper handling and application. Calibrate your spreader to ensure accurate application amounts; Too little will not give you effective control and too much may damage the turf.

Fertilizing
See Lawn Care above and Planting below.

Planting
And so it begins: The vegetable garden. The reason for some gardeners’ existence, for frozen fingers in February, summer sunburn and the endless supply of liniment in the medicine cabinet.

It is time for root vegetables and salad (and beef Bourguignon—which you can’t grow in the garden).  Plants that can go in the ground in February include cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. Work a little fertilizer into the soil that was tested in October (while it was still free to do so) following the recommendations of said SOIL TEST.

Be cognizant of soil moisture levels. It appears that Mother Nature is going to maintain that for now, but she can be really fickle.

Pruning
If you have been ignoring previous posts, now would be a good time to prune bunch grapes and fruit trees. Also due for judicious trimming are summer flowering shrubs and small trees.  That list includes Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus seriatcus) crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (Hydrangea arborescens & H. paniculata).

While you’re out there, whack back the ornamental grasses, too. The new blades haven’t emerged yet and the plants are looking a bit tired anyway.

Got some overgrown shrubs that you’ve been meaning to (or reluctant to) prune heavily? Go for it now.  I understand that if you’ve never done it before it can be a bit intimidating, trust me. The plant will almost always not only survive, but thrive. I am aware of the never-more-than-a-third rule, but sometimes that is not enough. If it needs to go back to 12”-18” … go for it.  Chances are, you and the plant will be glad you did.

Spraying
The orchard needs attention. Peaches and nectarines should be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl. Spraying a dormant oil on the fruit trees will help control several insects later in the year.

Other fun stuff to do outside in February
– Perennials can be divided if the soil ever gets dry enough.

– Many landscape plants can be propagated via hardwood cuttings this time of the year.  Some of the plants in the category are crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia sps), flowering quince (Chaenomoles sps), junipers (Juniperus sps), spiraea (Spiraea sps) and weigelia (Weigelia sps).

– Bluebirds will be most appreciative of a thorough house cleaning before the spring nesting season. Remove all the old nesting materials and let them start afresh. It’s like clean linens for them.

Oh, yeah. Lest we forget … order flowers or other living things from the plant kingdom for your significant other. Just for the record, guys like flowers and plants, too. Happy Valentine’s Day y’all! Think positive thoughts about an early Spring and no late freezes.

 

Photo credit
Creative commons, copyright Patricia Pierce,  https://www.flickr.com/photos/47602497@N06/26758856348

 

To Do in January

Happy New Year, y’all!!  Let’s garden! Well, let’s plan to garden. From the looks of the recent weather forecasts (past, present and future), it would appear to be a great year to plant cattails, rice and water lilies. Claude Monet would be pleased. Maybe this is the year to seriously consider a rain garden. There are usually two or three local hands-on workshops on this very topic. In the meantime, here’s what to do until we can get back to playing in the dirt.

Lawn Care
Continue trying to keep the leaves from accumulating on the turf.

Think about how you could change your landscape to eliminate some (or all) of your grass. It is after all the most expensive planting in the yard and the most ecologically unsustainable. Just sayin’.

Fertilizing
Not much here either unless you need a place to dump wood ashes. You can spread them on the veggie garden, bulb beds, or non-acid loving shrub beds if the pH is low, <6.0.

Planting
See introductory paragraph. Should the soil dry out enough to actually be workable, asparagus crowns can be planted now.

Pruning
Sharpen those hand pruners and loppers and go to work! Here’s your get-out-of-the-house excuse.  Studies have shown that January pruning cuts heal more rapidly than those made in other months. So, take down those branches overhanging the house and the ones that shade that corner of the garden.  Cut back those misshapen or overgrown shrubs.

Please prune the branches individually to shape the plant. Unless you are trying to recreate Buckingham or Versailles Palaces, leave the power hedge clippers where they are. Shearing is not the best thing you can do for a plant. However, if you must shear, be sure the finished product is wider at the base than at the top. This allows sunlight to reach the lower leaves and will keep the plant looking full from top to bottom.

When pruning entire branches of anything make the cut at the outside of the branch collar (flared area at the branch origin).

Spraying
Spray only if the plants you brought indoors for the winter brought unwanted guests with them. Light horticultural oils or insecticidal soap should be safe and effective treatments. If you can run them outside on a warmish dryish day so much the better. READ THE LABEL!

How to stay warm and dry ‘til March without incurring cabin fever induced insanity.
The warm part usually isn’t too difficult. Wear warm clothes while you prune and plan. Or when it is just too gross to go outside delve into those seed catalogs (some more), break out the Kindle (or a real book) and I recommend a hot beverage of your choosing.

The dry part might present a major challenge this winter. Many of us are no longer spry enough to actually dodge the raindrops. For those of us who are fashion-challenged anyway, a full rain suit (preferably in bright yellow) and tall rubber boots will offer shelter from even the worst deluge. For another option see last sentence previous paragraph.

Cheer up! The days are already getting longer and March is just two months away!

— Gary Crispell

 

To Do in December

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

The holidays
Are upon us.
It’s cold enough
To prune the euonymus.

Most of the leaves
Have fallen down
And into the compost,
Raked and blown.

The door is closed
On the potting shed.
Most of the garden
Has been put to bed.

But before the year
Turns over anew,
There are a few more things
Left to do.

Lawn Care

Mow the fescue
One more time.
Remove the leaves
To keep it fine.

Planting

Landscape plants
Can still be planted
There in that space
Where you’ve always wanted.

Pruning

Prune the nandina
And red-berried holly,
Arrange them on the table
To make it look jolly.

Herbaceous perennials
Can still be cut back.
While weeds and “bad” trees
Can be thoroughly wacked.

Spraying

While some think
Spraying is fun,
In the month of December
There should be none.

Other Stuff That is Mostly Fun

The Christmas tree
Really needs water
And will appreciate
Being away from the heater.

To keep your poinsettias
Cheery and bright
Put them in the room
With the sunniest light.

As to your soil recommendations,
Apply the lime.
Save the fert
For the warmer springtime.

If it’s viticulture
Or an orchard you seek,
Order plants now
To plant by March’s second week.

For your strawberries
A sweet straw bed,
Either wheat or pine
A blanket for their heads.

May your holidays
Be blessed and merry
As bright and cheery
As the holly’s berry.

And may next year’s garden
Be like my Grandmother’s,
A bounty for you
And a bounty for others.

To Do In November

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

November is upon us. The really active gardening season is nearly over. It is time to harvest the last of the tomatoes and peppers. Perhaps there is a winter squash or two still clinging to the vine. I don’t know about you, but I am sooo over pumpkin spice anything and sooo ready for eggnog (any way you like it).  So, let’s wrap up this gardening season and toast the upcoming holiday season.

Lawn Care
All of your neighbors with warm season lawns are smirking at you still mowing your fescue and bluegrass. (Really some of them—the ones chasing leaves with the John Deere—are jealous.) Just keep the cool season grasses mowed to 3.4 to 4 inches and everybody should keep lawns reasonably clear of leaves. Continue the battle with fire ants.

Fertilizing

  • Not much going on here. If your soil pH is low, less than 6.0, apply the recommended amount of lime. A good way to incorporate it into the soil is to core aerate the lawn before the application.
  • Wood ashes from your fireplace can be spread on your gardens and shrub beds. Be careful to avoid acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, gardenias, etc.

Planting

  • Let me repeat, “Fall is for planting!” There is still lots of time to add/transplant plants in your landscape (per your PLAN, naturally).
  • Plant one-year-old asparagus crowns now.
  • Sow a cover crop over the veggie garden if it is finished for the year. A planting of annual rye, wheat or barley will help prevent erosion and keep weeds to a minimum. Besides you can just till it into the soil in the spring as a bonus.

Pruning

  • After Jack Frost has claimed the last of your herbaceous perennials including existing asparagus, they can be cut back to the over-wintering rosettes or the ground.
  • Dead and/or diseased wood can be pruned out at any time.
  • Weeds and undesirable trees can now be removed without the three bottles of water per hour, head sweat band, and insect repellent.

Spraying

Surely by now you have cleaned up and put away the spray equipment. If not, Just do it.

Other stuff to do that will keep you outside and prevent eggnog overdose

  • As mentioned earlier, add lime where recommended. No fertilizer until spring.
  • Walk around the yard on mild days. It may be awhile before we see any more of them.
  • Okay, you can go inside now and order those fruit trees and vines you’ve been talking about. They will be delivered in time for planting in February or March. (Did you know hardy kiwi will grow well in a sunny place and produce a prodigious amount of fruit?)
  • While you are inside look at your plan and make adjustments based on this year’s experiences.
  • Oh, yeah. Don’t forget to stuff that bird, mash them taters, and bake that punkin pie. May your Thanksgiving be bountiful.

To Do in October

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, wasn’t September fun?! Dry, wet, dry, OMG wet. Heartfelt sympathies to those who suffered loss by Florence. For those of us whose gardens were only moderately affected (or not at all) here is the October calendar.

Fertilizing
Not much to do here unless you are planting spring flowering bulbs. Should that be the case, incorporate a little balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or equivalent) into the soil as you plant. Store any leftover fertilizer in a dry place for the winter.

Planting

  • The above-mentioned spring flowering bulbs (e.g. hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, etc.).
  • Pansies! Those plucky members of the Viola genus who can brighten up a gray winter day should be on everyone’s list unless, of course, there are deer nearby.  Apparently, the pansies make a great dessert after a meal of azalea branches.  Plant them soon as the more established they are when it gets cold the better able they will be to withstand the cold.
  • “Fall is for planting.” It’s not just a slogan from the nursery industry. It is gospel. The very best time to plant any new landscape plants you have been planning is now.
  • Peonies can be planted or transplanted now.
  • In the vegetable garden consider a nitrogen fixing cover crop like red clover, hairy vetch or winter rye. This will help keep down the weeds and add nitrogen to the soil. In the spring just till it into the soil to add nutrients and organic matter.
  • If you happen to be one of the foresighted people who have a cold frame now is the appropriate time to plant a winter’s worth of salad. Lettuce, green onions, radishes, carrots, spinach and other leafy greens will grace your salad bowl all winter if planted now.

Pruning
Once frost (It’s October. It is going to frost!) has finished the decimation of the perennial garden cut off all the dead tops and throw them on the compost pile. Root prune any trees or plants you plan to move in the spring.

Spraying
Unless you have a lace bug problem, it is time to clean up and winterize the sprayer and store the pesticides in a secured, dry location that will not freeze. As for the lace bugs, they are active whenever the leaf surface temperature is warm enough (i.e. whenever the sun shines on the leaves). A horticultural oil spray can be helpful in controlling both feeding adults and egg stages.

Lawn Care
Maintain adequate moisture levels for any newly seeded or sodded lawns.  Avoid leaf buildup on lawns.

Tall fescue and bluegrass (not the fiddlin’ kind) can still be planted in October.

Propagation
Keep an eye on any new cuttings in the cold frame (the one without the salad greens in it). They should be checked at least twice a month and watered as needed.
If you are a gardener lucky enough to be able to grow rhubarb now is the time to dig and divide it.

Other stuff to do that will keep you outdoors while the leaves turn color:

  • Take soil samples while they are still FREE. NC Department of Agriculture will charge for them from November to April.
  • Put those raked 0r blown leaves into the compost bin or till them into the veggie garden.
  • Clean fill and put out the bird feeders.
  • Dig and store (cool, dark, dry) tender summer flowering bulbs (E.g. gladioli, dahlia, caladium) before frost.
  • Clean up lubricate and otherwise prepare lawn and garden equipment for its long winter’s rest.

A mea culpa. This writer neglected to inform you that it is time to band trees that are susceptible to canker worm invasions. This involves wrapping and securing the trunk with a coarse material like burlap or quilt batting about 4 or 5 feet above the ground. That in turn is wrapped with a corrugated paper wrap that is then covered with the stickiest gooeyest stuff you’ve ever played with. All these materials are available at some nursery/garden centers, one of which is very proximal to the Durham Cooperative Extension office.

For a fun activity now that will yield fresh living flowers in the bleak mid-winter try your hand at forcing spring flowering bulbs. Plant bulbs in pots early in October and place them in the refrigerator. In twelve weeks bring them out into the house and watch them grow and bloom. Kids love it.