ANDREW MAY’S A GROWING CONCERN COLUMN: Warm days bring color in winter

BEFORE WE PLOW into produce-producing gardening, I need to take a good portion of this column to talk about a few tasks and concerns emerging because our very lovely spring-like weather of late.

As you many have already noticed in your travels out and about, flowers are beginning to appear.

Crocuses are abloom, the native rhododendron is showing pink color and the catlins are dangling on the birches.

Well, fear not, for although some or most of these plants may be slightly early this year, they all indeed bloom in winter, and we are already at midwinter, so these plants are predictably in bloom roughly for their time.

However, many folks are asking me if it is time to prune because they see new growth on their roses, hydrangeas, vines, area ornamental shrubs.

NO! (The exceptions are fruit and nut trees.)

All pruning is stimulating, and here on the North Olympic Peninsula we reliably and historically get heavy frosts and cold the last half of February or early March.

New growth manifesting itself as new shoots, newly forced leaves or breaking buds are extremely vulnerable to hard frost their first week or two.

To prune now is to simulate this scenario, and many, if not all perennial plants, rely on their exterior mass to shade them, creating a windbreak to aid them in overwintering.

However, today you should be seeking out bare-root plants, for now is both the ideal time and beginning of this short, market phenomenon.

I just saw bare root roses in bags five days ago.

Bare-root trees, berries, shrubs, perennials ground covers or bushes are the absolute best way to buy a larger plant at a lower price.

Planting them now gets them established by the start of summer.

Next up is dormant oil spray, volk oil or superior oil, which are all one and the same.

If you have fruit trees, nuts, Japanese maples, ornamental fruit trees or any of a multitude of ornamental shrubs that are susceptible to overwintering insects like the scale, cottony aphid, or mealy bug, this oil application is spot on for treatment with little or no residual damage and environmental harm.

I will begin next week’s column with more particulars, but you need to be doing this very soon.

So go out and buy the highest grade oil, which means in the 90th percentile range for refinement.

This is a simple and easy treatment of major perennial pest problems.

Then, too, beware of the weeds. I have already seen little seedlings sprouting, and a new generation this early will mean tens of thousands of more weeds come September.

Hoe them up, or my favorite thing to do during winter weather is to smother them with a layer of new top soil, compost or mulch.

Beware of slugs and mice as your crocuses pop, your lilies heave upward, hostas peer out of the soil or primulas bloom.

The new hatch of these gluttonous, ravaging, plant- destroying creatures start off the new year by destroying these delicious, succulent new plants of spring.

Please, please use only pet-safe products when fending off mice and slugs.

I have heard too many sad stories from my veterinarian wife of families in heartbreak because Fluffy or Spot died slowly in agony because of slug or mice bait.

On to produce. Vegetables, berries, nuts and fruit all thrive here year-round because of our great weather.

The first step for you is expectation and location.

First is determining what it is you want.

Is it just an herb garden, orchard or year-round produce for the kitchen?

Determining what you want will determine the space required, crop integration and plant selection.

And you need to know this right up front because produce gardens are solar factories.

They pretty much require as much sunlight as possible — more than 65 to 70 percent of the day for great production.

That factor alone can severely limit your available space and thus your expectations.

Remember, you can hang window boxes, cut down trees or remove fence lines or the RV in order get more area.

You may also realize your neighbor’s trees or the new houses next door will soon drastically decrease usable sunny area.

Go out this week, measure areas and make a list prioritizing what you would like to grow, so next week we can work out the formula.

________

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 e-mail [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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