A GROWING CONCERN: Here’s to a new year of gardening chores

JANUARY AND WINTER just keep rolling along.

We are now 22 days into the season of cold (and wet), both of which we saw last week.

Now is the time to prepare for a very busy gardening year, so relax today with any leftover eggnog, fruitcake or holiday candy and take a look at this “first of the year” to-do list.

1. Garden alert: rot.

The cold, gray, rainy days are here to stay — for a few months, anyway.

Now is the time to make sure perennials are cut back and the big old leaves stripped away and mulched.

Check all perennials for signs of rot or mildew.

Do this check every seven to 10 days as we proceed through winter.

2. Pruning.

As I have harped about for several weeks, it is winter and we have had cold along with snow and ice.

These are the ideal conditions for pruning. Begin to make your list of plants to prune.

Cut them out of the driveway, off the house and below the windows.

Personally, I would first spend time sharpening the blades, oiling moving parts and performing maintenance on handles or ladders.

Also, if you don’t have a Felco pruner, you should consider one now.

3. Heavy-shape pruning/tree-thinning/bad-branch removal.

January is the month to take down that big branch over the house, remove a precarious tree leaning over the neighbor’s fence or cut off a dead limb.

Now is the optimum time because a tree’s sap is not flowing, bugs are absent and many tree diseases are dormant.

Always be sure to first cut a deep notch under the branch moving upward before cutting down.

This way, you won’t strip the bark down the trunk or stem.

Do not cut flush to the trunk.

4. The compost pile.

If you have a compost pile this time of year, it has its own concern.

First, make sure you stir or turn over the pile. Decomposition has heat as one of its functions.

If every few weeks you stir the pile, the outside crust of your compost pile won’t just sit there and turn moldy.

Too much moisture can also be detrimental. Too much water can radically slow down the process.

Check your pile carefully. Does it sit in a well-drained area where rains just saturate the heap?

For most folks, a tarp over the pile every other week or during massive downpours does a perfect job of shielding against excessive moisture.

Air is another mandatory element of composting. Do not put tarps or plastic directly atop your compost pile.

Keep a few inches between the cover and pile.

5. Roses.

Now is the required time to strip all remaining large leaves from your plants.

Even if they have buds on them and new small foliage, do not (again, contrary to rose books) prune them.

Our weather is much too mild here. Stripping the leaves will help set dormancy without stimulation.

Remove old leaves from the soil surface. That is how rust and blackspot diseases re-inter your roses.

Finally, add a new couple of inches of fresh mulch, and never ever put the diseased leaves in the compost pile.

6. Make a cold frame.

In this climate, our cold frames are most people’s greenhouses.

Cold frames on the North Olympic Peninsula allow us to grow vegetables, flowers, trees or shrubs all year long.

We can also condition the plants being started so they will make the transition out to the garden perfectly this spring.

7. Puddle problems.

January is the perfect time to fix drainage problems because you can see them and the effectiveness (or not) of your work.

While the rains are here, dig ditches, lay drainpipe or create French drains and dry wells because standing water kills grass and perennials.

Work done this month will give your yard weeks to grow back from the summer season.

8. Indoor plant care.

Your heat has been on for a while, your windows are closed.

This means dust is building up on your house plants.

Take your indoor plants into the shower and rinse them off with lukewarm water.

Next, pinch off their tips, clean up the old stems and twigs, scratch up the soil and give them a light application of fertilizer.

Don’t do this to violets.

9. Mulch/cover/smother.

Add inches of organic material now.

This needs to happen because we are already getting early blooms from tulips and daffodils. This is too soon to be a good thing.

Cover these bulb plants (not crocus, snowdrops or species iris) immediately with a couple of inches of soil or mulch.

This method can also be used to smother weeds.

Also throw 4 to 6 inches of mulch over any vegetable areas. Top this off with some ammonium nitrate (21-0-0).

10. Collect and buy supplies.

Soon, garden chores will be pulling at us, so be prepared. Make your list, and in the next four weeks, buy all those items.

You will need fertilizer, bone meal, sterilized germination soil, root tone, sterilized pots, peat moss, labels, mason bee houses, stakes and ties, trellises, perlite soil soup, insecticidal soap, germination mats, new plastic for the greenhouse, shovels, dirt and rocks.

Use this list as a model, but add your own particular needs to it.

11. Block out Feb. 22.

The magical mystery garden bus will be making its 15th annual foray to the Northwest Flower &Garden Show. It is limited to roughly 45 people, and the bus can barely hold all the excitement, energy and information. It is all-inclusive.

Call me for details or leave a message at 360-417-1639.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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