A GROWING CONCERN: Let’s look forward as temperatures rise, days lengthen

WHAT A FABULOUS event the Northwest Flower &Garden Show really is, especially when shared with a busload of Olympic Peninsula gardeners.

Deadlines for this article did not give me time to gather my notes and report, so next week, I will dazzle you with what I’m sure was beauty and excitement.

But as the 2017 calendar moves ever forward, so, too, should we look carefully at the time of year and temperatures as we prepare to move forward with certain garden tasks around our yard.

First, focusing on the cold and its effects means that in the next weeks when temperatures go above freezing all day, go tend to your herbaceous plants and perennials.

The recent cold snap combines with the coming warmer temperatures in a manner that will cause many leafy plants to become mushy, for lack of a technical term.

The older leaves, worn down by the diminished sunlight and ever-present damp and cool days of the past few months, will now rapidly deteriorate as sunlight increases and 40-degree days return.

Trim them back carefully, removing only the old damaged, battered and wornout leaves. Do not prune away yet.

Make sure to remove and pick up limbs, leaves and sticks that winter storms may have deposited on your plants.

All these items will foster diseases and insects that will most probably cause your yard big problems later on in spring — perhaps even death.

On that note, here comes your one chance to mow your lawn super short.

Yes, I give you permission, just this one time, to mow low — an inch or less (do not scalp).

With the wind, rain, snow, ice and sleet of the past two months coupled with dead and dying old blades of grass (thatch) and the leggy grass length created by the low-light intensity, your lawns have become a perfect growing space for mold, fungus and mildew.

If your lawn is pushed or matted over in spots, right now is the perfect time to cut it as short as possible without scalping it.

This low-mowing and removal of cut debris will both eradicate the ideal growing conditions for pathogens and significantly reduce their food sources.

A low cut now will also be very stimulating to perennial grasses and at the optimum time to trigger new root and shoot production, resulting in a healthier and greener lawn.

And right now is the time to improve the health of your fruit trees and ornamental woody shrubs.

Even this past week, as ice formed and snow blanketed the foothills, I saw pussywillows, witch hazel and Daphne in full bloom while fruit buds swelled.

Dormant oils, or “Volk oil” sprays, are one of your best defenses against many troublesome pests — like scale, borers, mealy bugs, lecanium, mites, red spiders, leaf rollers, even gypsy moths, thrips and various galls.

Dormant oil sprays work because they suffocate these vile pests, smothering the problem to death by coating it with a layer of highly refined oil (always look for dormant oils in the high 90s for purity).

You must apply this spray through a backpack or other pump device before leaves and buds open or emerge.

This is excellent treatment for all the good bugs, like bees, butterflies or ladybugs, because they are not yet present at the tree being sprayed and won’t become collateral damage.

You need to spray three times very heavily from different angles and roughly 10 days apart.

You should spray only on a day that is 32 degrees (40 degrees is better) or above with no rain for at least 12 hours and preferably 24 to 36 moisture-free hours.

With the good cold spell now, this week is the ideal time to cut off large branches 3 or more inches in diameter.

Always thin them away by cutting them off at the exact point where they radiate from the main trunk or stem.

Always make a deep undercut on the bottom of the branch, then from the top, cut clean away.

If you don’t use this process, you will most certainly tear away huge flaps of bark and ultimately destroy that tree.

Remove big limbs this month.

The sap is down and the tree is in its deepest rest, so now is the time of least shock and sap loss because very soon, that will change.

Next, week the Northwest Flower &Garden Show.

________

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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