Leave your ornamental grasses standing. Their added movement in the landscape is interesting and they provide some food and shelter for overwintering wildlife. You can cut it back in early spring before new growth starts. This is the time to think about cool weather plants that won’t thrive in our hot summers. It’s also a good time to assess the condition of the garden and your store of tools and see what might need to be changed for next spring’s growing season.
- Plant garlic, shallots, early onion sets, and leeks. Plant fava beans or field peas in parts of the garden not used for other things. They make wonderful green manure and you can harvest the beans and peas for soup!
- Adding nasturtiums to the vegetable garden now will help with squash beetles later. Their blooms are also edible.
- Harvest Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, turnips, collards, and kale after light frost sweetens their flavor.
- Be prepared to cover spinach and lettuce with floating row covers to protect them from cooler temperatures when they occur. When installing row covers, you must decide whether to use a frame or just let the cover “float” on top of the plants as they grow. If you want a frame to hold the covers off the plants, you can use light metal concrete reinforcing “ladder” wires. They are easily bent, cut and nearly invisible when the covers are removed. They also are very easy to store. Or you can use half or quarter-inch PVC pipes bent over the row and stuck in the ground.
- Remember that the floating row covers will also keep birds from feasting on strawberries. It will also help in deterring many insects and other pests. Remember to uncover plants that need pollination during daylight hours to let the bees have access to flowers.
- Cut back perennials (except spring bloomers, roses, and mums) to a few inches above soil level.
- After clean up, let your garden air dry for at least a week. Mark the location of any young plants that have self-seeded over the summer. You’ll be better prepared to transplant them in the spring.
- It is a good idea at this time to draw a rough sketch showing where all your plants are growing. This is invaluable when you are going through all those seed and plant catalogs in the dead of winter.
When you broadcast wildflower seed, lightly rake it in for a bright spring show. You can also top-dress with compost.
- Mulch is not meant to keep the soil warm but to keep the temperatures around your plants even. This keeps the plants from starting growth too early in the spring. Lay mulch around shallow-rooted plants after the temperatures drop. Avoid piling it high as it can cause your plants to rot. Keeping it just a few inches away from the stems of young plants will cut down on soil borne diseases and fungus. If rodents are a problem where you live, thick mulch may not be a good idea. Mice are very fond of straw and hay winter homes.
- A gardener’s keen observation is the first, best tool. Before deciding what types of wildflowers to grow, take a walk around your property and observe the different kinds of sites you have. Try to gauge the length of sunlight in particular locations. Is this space shady part of the time, or receiving filtered, dappled light down through leaves?
- If you’re observing your yard during late fall when trees and shrubs are leafless, imagine how much shade wildflowers will get in the summer if planted near them.
- Consider the soils. Are areas dry and parched, sandy or moist and boggy? Are sites protected from the wind or threatened by it? Is there nothing but moss growing under a particular tree?
- The length of time and quality of sunlight received daily can be crucial for native plants. Wildflowers common to prairies and large, open meadows normally grow in full sun and will do best when they receive half a day or more of direct sunlight. Plants classified as savanna or open woodland species prefer growing in partial shade. Some flowers that grow in shady areas have adapted to get the sunlight they need by flowering before the trees completely leaf out.
Other major factors to consider when looking over your property are the types of soil you have, their acidity or alkalinity as measured by soil pH, and the amount of water they retain at various times of the year. Many wildflowers will tolerate drought conditions or relatively poor soils. Yet even these tough plants, (such as black-eyed Susan) will grow vigorously if planted in richer soil. You may decide to plant black-eyed Susan in an area with relatively poor soil, simply to curb its enthusiasm.
- Collecting native plants from the wild is unethical and often illegal (in the case of rare or threatened species like lady’s-slippers and pitcher plants). Fortunately, many reputable nurseries propagate native plants from seed. Collecting seeds of wildflowers is appropriate, so long as you harvest seeds judiciously, taking only a small sample so the existing plant colonies will be able to reproduce themselves.
- Today, wildflower seeds are quite widely available, so we’re frequently better off purchasing these. Growing plants from seed is certainly more economical than buying mature plants. The main disadvantage is that many native plants require a long time to mature or to germinate from seed. Many types of seeds need pretreatment before they can be planted. Most often this involves stratification (planting the seeds in a pot and then refrigerating them for several months until the seeds are fooled into believing that it’s time to break dormancy and germinate). Sometimes pouring very hot water over the soil covering them will help them germinate more quickly. Experiment and make notes in your garden journal.
- Growing a wildflower lawn or meadow lets you sow mixed seeds directly on top of the ground in either the fall or spring. You’ll appreciate the opportunity to leave your mower in the garage while enjoying the color, movement and textures of a mass planting of wildflowers.
- As plants that exist happily in the wild without human care, native plants tend to be quite efficient at reproducing themselves through seed dispersal and other means. Do some research and try to avoid creating problems down the line.
Trees and Shrubs
- Spread composted manure around citrus trees to encourage spring growth and blossoming.
- Be fearless when pruning branches of your bougainvillea that ramble onto pathways. If you trellis them, use well-anchored, metal frames. A young plant gets heavy branches very soon, and will weaken most wooden trellises in no time at all.
- Use your pole pruner’s hooked blade to remove dead palm fronds. The telescoping length of these tools allows a terrific reach.
- Wear protective eyeglasses when pruning overhead. If the diameter of a branch is too wide for your tool’s initial cut, let gravity work with you. Make your first cut on the underside of the branch. This keeps the branch from ripping the bark as it falls.
- Notice the knuckle, where the branch joins the tree, and cut above that line.
- This time of year, take advantage of late-season tree sales. The only challenge with trees in pots purchased this late is that they may be root-bound. Before you plant them in the ground, loosen the roots and spread them out. Any that won’t spread, cut them. New roots will grow from the cut. Otherwise, they may simply continue to encircle the plant rather than spread out. Make the planting hole at least twice the size of the pot. Amend the soil if needed.
- Fallen leaves will smother a lawn if left in place all winter. Use a mulching blade on your mower to add more organic matter to your turf, feeding your soil.
- If possible, pull out by hand clumps of crabgrass and discard with your recently raked thatch.
- Continue to mow grass warm-season grasses between 1½ and 2 inches, which is just a little shorter than you should cut it during the spring and early autumn.
- Prevent weedy patches next spring by reseeding now.
- Grass seed grows well in fall because the temperatures are perfect and because it has less competition from annual weeds. Just be sure to give the lawn enough time to establish itself before weather changes roll in.
- Don’t use a pre-emergent weed killer on a re-seeded lawn until after the seeds have germinated. It can stunt or kill the seeds. Don’t fertilize warm-season grasses in fall. Take time to prep your garden for fall and winter.
Winter is a great time to assess your tool situation and see what you might be missing. Here is a brief review of the tool options available for pruning at your local Home Depot. The correct tools make every job easier. Depending on plant type, branch diameter and height, you will need one or all of the following: hand pruners, loppers, pole pruners, pruning saws, chain saws and hedge shears.
- Hand pruners can be ‘anvil’ or ‘bypass.’ Anvil pruners have a sharp blade that cuts against a flat anvil and are ideal for cutting small to medium size dead limbs and dry branches. Bypass pruners have a scissors-type action with curved blades that make cleaner cuts than anvil pruners. These are good for precision cutting around buds and tender areas on the plant and for “green” and growing limbs. They are also well suited for thinning out hedges.
- Loppers are long-handled hand pruners with either bypass or anvil action. They work well when you need a little more reach and leverage, and they’re good for cutting thicker branches (usually up to 2″ in diameter). In recent years, tool manufacturers have made ‘telescoping’ handles, which allow the user to adjust the handles for an extended reach. The downside of this is added weight to the tool. Some loppers also have a ratcheting feature that makes cutting through thick green branches easier.
- Pole pruners are ideal for high, overhead cutting without the need for a ladder. They use a rope and pulley system to make cuts to upper-level branches in a tree’s canopy while you stay on the ground. Pruning saws are used for larger branches that pruner or lopper blades can’t navigate. Pruning saw blades can be curved or straight. (I prefer using a ‘cross-cut’ saw. It cuts in both a forward and reverse direction.) The more teeth the blade contains, the more precise the cut will be. Large-toothed saws should be used for the largest limbs. Bow saws are good for making precise and fast cuts on large branches.
- Chainsaws are your choice for larger, heavier branches or entire trees. Chainsaws can be gas powered or electric. (The electric chainsaws are not intended for larger limbs but can be quite hard workers. They are also significantly lighter than gas powered chainsaws and are great for pruning needs nearer the house.) The manufacturers have been terrific in making available to the consumer market chainsaws on poles to reach overhead branches safely from the ground, to limited heights. Some of them will change out with your weed or brush-cutter heads and work off the same engine.
- Practice safety at all times when using any tools, but be particularly vigilant when using a chainsaw. Wear protective eye gear. If you are not experienced with a chainsaw but need to use one anyway, try to not work alone. When in doubt, call a professional.
- Hedge shears are used to shape and trim shrubs and hedges. For large-sized hedges or to make quick work of pruning shrubbery, consider power shears. Power shears use either electricity or gas and can make the job quicker and easier. For use on a non-fruiting shrub, like a Yaupon holly or boxwood, they can give you a nice tight effect. But for a hedgerow of forsythia or loropetalum – any shrub with a naturally arching habit — you’re likely to create a ‘meatball’ effect, which is unnatural, to say the least. We suggest pruning wood the diameter of pencils with hand pruners, or loppers, for these and many other shrubs. It will allow the hollies to continue to produce berries.
- Research the appropriate time of year for pruning. It varies according to growth and bloom habits of each species.