A GROWING CONCERN: Warm up to garden tasks as weather improves

I GUESS MY penance for the Green Bay Packers’ loss was to experience my hometown’s weather — here at my house in Port Angeles.

But as the 2024 calendar clicks slowly forward, so, too, should we look carefully at the time of year and temperatures as we prepare to move forward with certain garden tasks.

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

The recent cold snap will combine 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 cold days of the last few months will now rapidly deteriorate as sunlight increases and the 40 degree days return.

Trim them back carefully, moving only the old, damaged, battered and worn out leaves — do not prune away yet!

Make sure to remove and pick up limbs, leaves, sticks or evergreen boughs 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 actually mow your lawn super short. Yes, I give you permission, just this one time, to mow low — an inch or less.

With the wind, rain, snow, ice and sleet of the last two months coupled with dead and drying 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 laying down, pushed or matted over in spots, right now is the perfect time to cut it as short as possible, without scalping it.

This lawn mowing and removal of cut debris will both eradicate the ideal growing conditions for pathogens and significantly reduced their food sources. A low cut now will also be very stimulating to perennial grasses and at the optimum time to trigger new roots and shoot production, resulting in a healthier and greener lawn.

Right now is also the time to improve the health of your fruit trees and ornamental woody shrubs. Even this last 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 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 spray 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 on 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 dgrees or above, with no rain for at least 12 hours and preferably 24 to 36 moisture-free hours. With this good cold spell, 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, saw 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. Right now, sap is down and the tree is in its deepest rest, so now is the time of least shock and sap loss.

As you see, temperatures are on the rise, so prune, prune, prune.And do stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and 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 news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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