Hold off on planting a new landscape. Spend an entire growing season removing noxious weeds, adding organic matter to the soil, testing fertility levels, adding lime and plant nutrients accordingly, and building raised beds. Never mind what neighbors say. Donít rush into planting.
Spend money on soil conditioners. Whether your soil is sandy or heavy clay, it probably has been abused and robbed of organic matter. A light sprinkling of organic soil conditioner wonít suffice. Two or three inches, tilled in, is more like it.
Very few gardeners have seen their plants grow to their genetic potential. Nature has programmed each variety to grow at a certain speed, to a certain height and spread, and to flower or fruit to a certain degree. But if your soil is lacking in organic matter, essential nutrients or micro-nutrients, it canít drain properly, canít absorb water readily, and canít admit sufficient oxygen. Thus, your plants will never grow as well as they are capable of doing.
In heavy clay soil, look at planting in a different way. Visualize planting atop the soil rather than in it. This means adding perhaps two inches of organic soil conditioner and two inches of sand and tilling it in to make raised beds. Then, when you plant shrubs or flowers in these beds, they will have a well-drained root run.
Much of the root system of trees is in the top eight to ten inches of soil. Therefore, when planting new trees, prepare a hole just deep enough so that the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Spread a generous layer of soil conditioner within a circle six feet in diameter and till it in. Fill around the root ball with the soil you took out of the hole. However, if it is sticky clay, mix it 50-50 with soil conditioner before back-filling.
Mulching new trees is a good way to conserve moisture, encourage root growth, and keep down weeds. However, do not pull the mulch right up to the trunk. It can encourage fungal and bacterial diseases. Instead, look at the tree as growing up through a hole in a doughnut, with the doughnut being made of mulch. You will see trees mulched right up to the trunk in municipal plantings, but it is because they donít know or care about tree health.
"Frost-free dates". Boy, are they nebulous! Unless you live in a nearly frost-free area, you have to allow two weeks beyond the posted frost-free date to be sure that Jack Frost wonít bite your tender new plantings. This suggestion may sound as if it came out of The Farmers Almanac, but the best way to know that soil is warm enough to plant seeds of summer flowers and vegetables is to take off your shoes and socks and walk on it, barefoot. If the soil feels cold or cool, wait a few days and try again.
Discontinue fertilizing trees, shrubs, and perennials forty-five to sixty days before the average date of the first fall frost for your area. This assures that they wonít be forced into lush growth just before frost comes. Their growth will be "hard" and resistant to frost damage.
Your "USDA Hardiness Zone" is not set in concrete. While the "Hardiness Zone Map" is generally reliable, there are exceptions, depending on the exposure, lay of the land, and elevation of your property. Your local horticultural Extension Agent can tell you with considerable accuracy which hardiness zone you are in.
The new "Heat Zone Map" , while useful, has even more exceptions than the hardiness zone map. In general, it assigns heat zones by averaging high temperatures for each region. The problem is, some areas have high day temperatures and rather cool nights while others have high temperatures both day and night. And average relative humidity also affects the resistance of plants to heat. Eventually, the glitches will be worked out, but for now you need to factor in local conditions rather than accepting heat zones as the gospel.
Think small. It is okay, even admirable, to spend money on a complete landscape plan for your entire property, but when you start to carry out the plan, you will need to focus on small areas at a time. Consider them as "garden rooms", to be decorated with living furniture.
Learn the term, "hardscape". Your hardscape consists of walks, walls, steps, retaining structures, water features, arbors, fences, statuary...all the non-living additions that give shape, flow, focal points, access, emphasis, and elevation, to your landscape. Install your hardscape before deciding on plants and where to place them.
Think multi-season appeal in trees and shrubs. Donít go down to your local garden center and buy the same kind of tree or shrub you see all over the neighborhood. Thatís how horticultural clichés are born. Instead, research your opportunities. Search out trees and shrubs that offer spring color, summer appeal, and winter berries or interesting bark.
Encourage non-intrusive wildlife by planting to attract and feed butterflies, hummingbirds, and birds that eat seeds and berries. These colorful creatures will add a new dimension of enjoyment to your gardening. You may have to install shields of chicken wire around valuable shrubs and perennials to foil deer and rabbits, or throw bird netting over them. As yet, there is no fully reliable spray to discourage deer. A strong, speedy, barn cat works best for keeping down rabbits, mice, and voles.
Think twice before locking yourself into a landscape plan that depends on green meatballs for effect. Tightly-trimmed broad-leaved evergreens or needle-leaved conifers are very labor intensive and virtually static. They offer nothing to wildlife.
Rather than green meatballs, consider truly dwarf cultivars (cultivated varieties) of shrubs. Trimming, pruning, and thinning will be minimized, and you can arrange your shrubs to achieve either a formal or an informal effect, depending on how you site them.
Please, Oh! Please! do not cut the top out of any tree that has a strong central trunk, one with more or less horizontal branches. Take the whole tree down, rather than butchering it. This is why you should think long and hard about which tree to buy, to avoid planting a robust tree, for example, beneath a power line.
Run off anyone who drives up with a pickup truck, a ladder or a cherry-picker lift, and a chain saw, and offers to "trim" your trees. They will simply lop off branches, often so carelessly that they strip off bark as they drop. Every place they cut, several "suckers" will sprout. The clusters of suckers will "self-destruct" in the next high wind. Call for a certified arborist instead. They are worth the money.
Pot plants. Invest in a fluorescent light fixture or, even better, one of the new metal halide lamps to keep your house plants happy during the winter. This is particularly important in hardiness zones 6 and north, where winter days are short and often cloudy.
Position the fixture in a cool room where you can raise the humidity by setting pots on trays of gravel, kept moist to evaporate moisture.
How long has it been since you took a shower with your house plants? Well, actually, it works better if you adjust the shower to lukewarm, set your plants beneath the spray, and leave them there for several minutes. Climbing in with them is optional. The water will dissolve accumulated salts in the soil and "leach" them out the drainage hole. Caution: donít try this with African violets or other St. Paulias...they resent water on their leaves.
High-performance potting soils...how in the world can you chose the right one from all the brands at your local garden center? In general, avoid those which contain almost dust-fine, jet black organic matter. And avoid those which contain sand or "topsoil". Soils in the South and West contain pine or fir bark in addition to Canadian sphagnum peat moss, and perhaps Perlite. They are lighter in weight than those found in the Northeast and Midwest, where more sphagnum peat moss and other fine-textured kinds of organic matter are included.
Are you a dyed-in-the-wool Organic Gardener? You donít want to use high-performance potting soils because they contain manufactured fertilizers? Then mix your own, using finely ground pine or fir bark and high quality Canadian sphagnum peat moss on a 2 to 1 ratio. You will need to add lime, and to fertilize your seedlings or rooted cuttings with an organic nutrient source such as fish emulsion.
Tired of high mortality when you set out plants of annuals and perennials? Maybe it is because you just think that you are watering them adequately. Often, and particularly on clay soils, more water runs off than soaks in, and newly-transplanted plants donít get enough water to develop a new root system. Try back-filling around them with an organic "Planting Mix". It will accept water readily and will supply more oxygen to plant roots.
Gardening in containers is one of the "hottest" trends in home gardening. Some gardeners buy "dish gardens"--rather small basins or pots stuffed with several kinds of flowers. Others pay high dollar for large pots more tastefully planted with choice flowers and foliage plants. But the most fun can come from buying pots, potting soil, and a selection of plants, and putting them together in your own design.
Did you know there are "thugs" among flowers? They grow rapidly and either smother neighboring plants or suck them dry of water. When you select plants for containers or flower beds, try to visualize the mature size of the plants and select kinds that will be compatible all summer long.
(Speaking of garden "thugs", the botanical garden at Greensboro, North Carolina, worked out a novel way of handling them. They planted all of them on an island in a lagoon on their property and let them fight it out. At last report, the various kinds had reached a standoff, with no one species exterminating the others.)
One of the gardening opportunities most often missed lies beneath the shade of lawn trees. Grass doesnít want to grow there, neither do garden flowers, and ground covers are plain vanilla green. Think about mowing the grass short, covering it with three to five layers of newspaper, spreading three inches of mulch, laying down a leaky-hose for irrigation, and planting native wildflowers! Set out plants in early fall and they will bloom the following spring. Be sure to include ferns for summer interest.
Why plant in containers? There will come a point in your gardening life when you have done about all you can do with your landscape and it just isnít adequate. Thatís when groups of containers here and there in your garden can "add icing to the cake". Choose big containers and set them at different levels for visibility and eye appeal.
Iím often asked, whatís the best proportion of container volume to top growth?
At maturity, the plants should fill up a volume about twice that of the capacity of the container. In other words, if your container holds five gallons of potting soil, the top growth at maturity would fill up a ten gallon pot.
Some of the best-looking containers are planted by people who are good at arranging flowers...florists, flower show competitors and such. They work with arrangements regularly and understand how to combine colors, how to achieve a strong line and balance within an arrangement, and how to choose the right vase for an arrangement. But you donít have to be an expert to plant a good-looking container. Read on.
You can create "landscapesí within large containers by combining trailing, mounding, and erect shapes of flowers. And while at the store selecting attractive combinations, you can check on flower colors for compatibility. Donít overlook foliage plants, especially those with silvery leaves: dusty miller, false licorice, gray santolina, and `Bergarttení sage are a few.
A backlash against garden chemicals had been developing for some time. Home gardeners often go through a cycle of withdrawal from chemicals, starting with "Integrated Pest Management", which minimizes the use of toxic sprays and dusts. Really keen organic gardeners move on to using biological pest controls: beneficial wasps, lady beetles, praying mantids, and predatory nematodes. They reserve the use of botanical sprays and dusts for "hot-spot" outbreaks of insects and diseases, and rely on disease resistant varieties instead of planting susceptible types and being forced to spray.
If you have trouble growing tomatoes, peppers and eggplants because of wilts caused by bacterial infections and root rots, consider growing disease-resistant varieties in 30-gallon plastic garbage cans or half-barrels filled with high performance potting soil.
Donít mix garden soil with the potting soil or you could introduce the very plant diseases you are trying to avoid.
When is the best time to prune or thin shrubs? Depends on the time of the year they bloom. Wait until shortly after they have bloomed, and then prune or thin. In that way, you get to enjoy the color. Generally, you are better off thinning flowering shrubs versus cutting back limbs. Use a sharp pruning saw and a pair of loppers to remove about one third of the stems at ground level, and to remove branches growing back into the center of the shrub. Lopping off branches to "make the shrub stay low" is a bad idea. If you have to do that, take the shrub out and plant a true dwarf that will stay short.
If you are not composting lawn clippings, leaves, weeds, and vegetable scraps, you should be. Lawn clippings decay without souring if you let them dry a bit before putting them in the compost heap. Spread them out on a concrete drive and they will dry like they had been microwaved. You will know that you have achieved the right ratio of green matter to dry leaves when your compost pile begins "cooking" at temperatures around 140 degrees F. You can see steam rising on cool mornings. Spread the compost around flowers and vegetables and listen carefully for a wee, small voice saying, "Thank you!"
Limbing-up. Many gardens--old ones, especially--suffer from too much shade...so much that only the species that can tolerate deep shade will flourish beneath their branches. Granted, it is costly to bring in a certified arborist to remove bottom limbs from trees to admit more light, but the results can be spectacular. Certain trees should not be limbed up: conifers and broad-leaved evergreens with branches all the way to the ground, for example, but most of the hardwoods can be top-worked with no ill effects.
Go native! Pay a visit to a native plant specialist in your state. You will find many native species that are just as colorful as exotic introductions from other places. You are better off planting species that grow naturally within one hundred miles of your garden.
These are called "local ecotypes" and have adapted to your local soils and climates over the eons. They are relatively drought resistant and suffer little from insect depredation.
Meadows of native flowers. Establishing a meadow isnít as easy as scattering seeds and letting nature take its course. You are better off taking an entire summer to get your ground squeaky-clean, absolutely free of grasses and weeds that spread aggressively by underground stems or fleshy roots. Start small, perhaps cleaning up two hundred square feet a year. Set out plants of native perennial ecotypes in late summer or fall. You can scatter seeds of flowering annuals for quick color but donít expect them to last.
Can you believe everything you hear on TV or read in garden books? Like most avid gardeners, I devoutly wish we could. But there are TV personalities and writers who are primarily entertainers. They know precious little about gardening and care more about profiting from their programs and spin-offs than they do about your welfare. Some have more innocent motives and just like to see their name in print. Remember, if something you hear on the radio or TV sounds like a crackpot idea, it probably is. And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Have you recently moved some distance? Then you have discovered that gardening is the most local of all hobbies. You will have to learn to work with new kinds of soil, new climates, new exposures to sun and shade, and new kinds of plants. A good place to start learning is with your local Extension Agent, an employee of the land grant university serving your state. Most states offer courses leading to certification as a "Master Gardener". The courses wonít make you an instant expert but they will help you to grow better gardens with fewer failures.
If you have a botanical or estate garden nearby and you have a little spare time, go volunteer to help. They may assign you to work with a horticulturist, or ask you to become a docent, to guide visitors around the place. Either way, you will learn to identify plants, and how the experts grow them. The experience will soon reflect in your own garden.
Childrensí gardens? There are a few years in a childís life, when he or she has become adept enough to handle tools and follow suggestions, but before discovering the opposite sex, when they will cheerfully cooperate in gardening projects. Start them with seeds, big ones such as sunflower, pumpkin, or bush beans, and perhaps a tomato plant.
Take your time in demonstrating how to plant, then turn them loose to do it. Make reasons to lure them back into the garden periodically to check on the progress of "their plants".
Some kinds of plants grow easily from "direct-seeding"...planting them in prepared soil in the garden rather than trying to grow them from started plants. I am always mystified when I see gardeners buying started plants of beans, peas, corn, pumpkins and squash, even sunflowers! Try growing them from seeds. They will pop up in seven to ten days and will soon catch up with plants started in a pot and transplanted. So many seedlings will emerge that you may have to "thin the standí to leave room for a few to grow.
I love strawberry jars, the bigger the better! Just imagine an herb garden at your fingertips, in a sunny spot, just outside the door to your kitchen. Fill a strawberry jar with potting soil, and plant six to twelve kinds of herbs, however many it takes to have one per planting hole. Having your herb garden within easy reach will encourage you to use more of them in cooking and as garnishes.
One hundred fifty new varieties in a single year! Thatís how many new introductions I recently counted. And thatís just herbaceous plants, annuals and perennials. Heaven only knows how many shrubs, trees, and bulbous species were introduced as well. You can be forgiven for not knowing all the new varieties: not even the experts can keep up. But do take the time to try perhaps five or six new varieties every year, or the parade of good new stuff will pass you by completely, leaving you with a garden full of passé plants. Donít be surprised if, in a few years, you reach the saturation point in your garden where, if you want to plant something new, you will have to make room by taking out something old.
Sweet soil, sour soil...thatís the old way of describing soils that have adequate lime, or which are acid because of a deficiency of calcium and magnesium. The soils in many parts of the USA lying east of the Mississippi are acid. They will grow good blueberries or azaleas, and "florists hydrangeas" grown on them will develop blue flowers. Most garden flowers and vegetables prefer a soil pH of about 6.0, which is slightly acid. You may have to work lime into your soil every year or two, to bring it up to a desirable pH range, and keep it there. But take a soil sample and test it first. "By guess and by gosh" applications of lime can cause more problems than they cure.
"Average Days to Maturity". Most seed catalogs give such information for vegetable varieties, and it is useful. But be aware that your average summer day and night temperatures may be greatly different than those where the variety was grown and evaluated. Days to maturity in Maine could be considerably greater than days to maturity in Mississippi. Further, catalog "days" are based on spring planting. Plantings made later in the year when both the soil and the air are warm, will probably mature faster than spring plantings.
Adaptability. Some species of flowers refuse to bloom in hot weather, and may dry up and die. Others wonít mature where seasons are cool, or if they do, it will be very late in the fall. This is why you should search out garden books written just for your state or at the most, for your region.
Grow vegetables, and share your harvest. Many American gardeners have never planted a vegetable, preferring to grow flowers, instead. But you can get "sticker shock" by reading the prices on produce stands. Yet, it isnít price resistance that is causing increasing numbers of Americans to start their first vegetable gardens, but rather a concern about what has been sprayed on or fed to fresh produce. When you do begin growing your own food, donít let the surplus go to waste. If you canít freeze or can it, take it to your local food bank where it will be distributed to the needy. The Plant a Row for the Hungry program is making a dent in the hunger situation in this country and Canada by encouraging gardeners like you to pitch in and help.
British garden books. Doesnít it seem odd to you that our book stores are overflowing with garden books from England when, if you look in book stores over there, you will find virtually no garden books written in the USA? There is a reason, and it accounts for the low prices on many big garden books, well illustrated, in color. British gardeners love garden books and print them in great numbers. So, why not make an overrun to reduce the price per book, and send the surplus over to the Colonials? Or, why not buy up the rights to obsolete garden books, and use the plates to print books for distribution over here? One day I sat down in a major book store and searched through the names of publishers and authors to smoke out British origins, and was amazed at the preponderance of British books. Now, Lord love Ďem, they are good gardeners, and they write beautifully, but their varieties are seldom available over here. And their climates are totally different from ours, as are their soils, insect pests, and diseases. So, before you buy a garden book, look on the dust jacket or inside back cover for a biography on the author. Is it a Yank or a Brit? If you see several names, be suspicious. Some British garden books are "Americanized" by assigning chapters to American writers for revision. The improvement will be slight, at best.
The secret to a carefree lawn that requires less water, fertilizer, and mowing is all at the roots. Work on improving the soil by aerating and using organic-base fertilizers, and your grass roots will dig deep to find their own water and nutrients.
Get a mulching mower. Leaving the grass clippings on the lawn not only saves you the time of gathering and dumping bags of cut grass, but it also returns nitrogen to the soil so you won't have to fertilize as often.
Put in a ground-level edging surface. A landscape timber or curb at the same level as the lawn means you can set one wheel of the mower on the curb and edge the lawn at the same time that you're mowing.
Make a high cut. The crew cut is outdated. The type of grass you grow determines how high you can set the mower, but most lawns can be allowed to grow 2Ė3 inches tall before removing the top one-third of the blades. Longer grass shades the roots and has more leaf surface for making food, so you will water, feed, and mow less often.
Hire it out. If mowing the lawn is a job you hate, hire someone else to do it so you can use your gardening time to plant perennials, harvest vegetables, or just smell your roses.
To save tending time and still enjoy beautiful flowers, be picky about what you grow. Dwarf, compact varieties don't need staking, and flowers such as coreopsis, euphorbia, and hellebore, which have long bloom seasons, give more return on your energy investment.
Choose annuals that don't require dead-heading or the removal of faded flowers to keep them blooming. Examples include lobelia, impatiens, and fibrous begonias.
Place stiff, bulky plants in front of tall, floppy ones so you won't have to stake. Use a mounded shrub of potentilla in front of hollyhocks or upright marigolds to support tall snapdragons.
Set your bulbs in plastic pots and rotate them in and out of your larger planters. This way, when bulbs are done blooming, replacing them with summer annuals is a quick and easy job.
Don't dig up and store your tender bulbs of glads, dahlias, and cannas. Try covering them with a tarp and a 6-inch mulch of leaves instead. This insulation will keep the moisture from rotting and the cold from freezing your tropical bulbs. In the spring, just roll back the protective tarp and watch for new growth.
You don't need to hire a farmhand to tend the edibles. Grow the things your family most likes to eat and they'll be more eager to help with the harvest. Mix your vegetables into your flowerbeds or put some in pots with the flowers. This way they'll be more conveniently located and easier to tend.
Grow rhubarb, asparagus, and perennial herbs. All are edibles that don't have to be replanted each year.
Raise the beds, lower the maintenance. Raised beds warm up sooner in spring, and you can sit on the edge to plant and harvest.
Plant more vegetables in less space. A compact vegetable garden will take less time to plant and harvest.
Feeding, Watering, and Weeding
Great soil will cut back on maintenance, so improving it with compost and other forms of organic matter is the secret to independent plants. Not only does highly organic soil hold more water and nutrients, but it will support healthier plants and fewer weeds.
Cut back on fertilizing time with a slow-release plant food. These pelleted fertilizers you mix into the soil release nutrients all season long. You can even buy potting soil with the slow-release plant food already added.
Mulch, mulch, mulch. Covering the soil with an organic mulch of compost or bark chips feeds the soil, seals in moisture, and blocks out weeds.
Water less often, but for longer periods of time. A deep soaking once a week is better for your plants than frequent shallow drinks. Thorough soakings encourage deep roots, which means you'll water less as the summer wears on.
Use a decorative sprinkler you can leave out on the lawn all summer. A hose holder that reels in the excess hose is also a handy way to keep things tidy.
Choose drip-irrigation and soaker hoses; they're the most efficient ways to water. If you don't have an automatic sprinkler system, consider this investment in timesaving convenience.
Make wood chips out of fallen branches with a shredder/chipper. Use the chips on top of newspaper or cardboard as natural-looking weed-blocking material for your pathways.
Behead the weeds instead of pulling them. A sharp hoe or string trimmer can slice off the weeds at ground level. Decapitate the weeds on a sunny day, and the roots will dry up as well.
Study the winter bones of the garden, then invest in birdbaths, sundials, and other garden art as focal points. Not only are those nonliving garden accents maintenance-free, but they add structure to the winter garden.
Don't drag out the ladder for winter pruning. Invest in a long-handle pruning pole and keep your feet on the ground.
Look for seedlings that have volunteered from self-sowing perennials or annuals. Reward their independent spirit by replanting them so they will spread to other parts of the garden.
Plant dwarf evergreen shrubs that grow slowly and stay tidy to avoid summer pruning and staking.
Replace patches of lawn that won't stay green in the heat of the summer with a boulder-and-rock mulch, or a drought-resistant ground cover.
Add a watering wand with an on/off switch to the end of your hose. This tool makes quick work of watering pots and baskets.
Plant bulbs that will return on their own. Dwarf daffodils and short tulips come back more dependably and won't blow over onto their bellies during spring rainstorms.
Quick Tip: To plant a lot of bulbs, dig large communal holes. Pitch in a dozen or more bulbs and cover them all up at once.
Don't toss or burn fallen leaves. Rake or blow them all into a pile in a corner of the yard. Cover with a net. In the spring, use the decomposing leaves as a mulch around plants or till them into the garden soil.
Spread bird netting under your trees with falling foliage. After the leaves have dropped, gather up the corners of the net and drag away the leaf pile.
Grow the undemanding perennials that return for years without needing division. Hostas, peonies, and daylilies are the time-honored, timesaving troupers of the perennial border.
Group all the thirsty plants together near your water source. It's the most efficient way to conserve time and water.
Put the right plant in the right place. Any plant demanding more than its fair share of time deserves the shovel solution. Is wisteria swallowing the house? Are shrubs blocking the windows? Do roses need constant chemical treatments to keep healthy? Move 'em or lose 'em; you don't have to stick with themóno matter how prettyówhen they get out of control.
Use large pots for your container gardens. The more soil your pots hold, the more food and water they hold.
Save time looking for your most used tools by converting an old nightstand or chest of drawers into handy garden-supply storage you can keep on your covered porch or patio. Spray paint and stencils are the quickest ways to transform old furniture. Add garden-theme hand tools as drawer pulls for instant charm. You'll have quick access to seeds and fertilizer, and hooks on the side can hold hand tools. Wooden clothespins are perfect for hanging gardening gloves up to dry.
Extend the showoff season of poinsettias by keeping them in a bright room and away from drafts. Also, only water when the exposed, upper portion of the soil is dry to the touch.
Receive an amaryllis for Christmas? Donít be tempted to transplant it to a larger pot. This beauty blooms best in a container that only allows about an inch from the side of the pot and the bulb.
Resist the urge to fertilize houseplants at this time, as now is when their growth is at its slowest.
Crocus, hyacinths, daffodils, tulips or other spring-blooming bulbs that have been potted up and left in a cool space for force blooming can be moved indoors to a brightly lit room to induce sprouting and eventual flowering.
When watering houseplants in the winter, to prevent a shocking chill, allow the water to sit in a container until it has warmed to room temperature.
Wild vines such as Japanese honeysuckle, wild grape, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, bittersweet and wisteria that crawled into your landscape last year should be cut off at their source and removed.
It is not too late to order your 2004 catalogs for the growing season to come.
If you are an early-bird gardener who has already ordered and received seeds for this year, remember that, until planting time, the seeds should be kept in a cool, dry place.
Continue feeding your feathered friends suet, fruit, nuts and seeds. Refrain from bread, however, as it quickly spoils and becomes moldy.
Yank vigorous winter weeds.
Prune trees and shrubs, removing diseased or storm-damaged wood.
Lightly water and fertilize indoor plants.
Remember that plants contribute essential oxygen, reduce problem noise, feed and shelter wildlife, cool and shade urban spaces, and reduce human stress.
Gardeners can eat produce fresh from the garden nearly year-round. Draw your food garden master plan, rotating crop locations from last year. Crops planted in succession will keep harvests coming.
Sharpen mower blades and tune up mower.
Don't walk on soggy or frozen grass.
Healthy lawns compete with moss, which infests shady, compacted or stressed turf. Lime won't eliminate moss.
Give perennial borders an early boost with a top-dressing of compost or aged manure.
Weeds such as crabgrass, goosegrass, foxtail and bamboograss (Microstegium vimineum) can be dealt a big blow with the application of a pre-emergent herbicide.
Liriope, mondo grass and other ornamental grasses should be cut back to one quarter of their height.
Keep pansy blooms coming by pinching off spent flowers and fertilizing the plants every three to four weeks.
Start spring indoors this year by force-blooming branches of forsythia, redbud, pussywillow, crabapple, spirea, viburnum, serviceberry, spicebush, Japanese andromeda, mountain laurel, hawthorn, dogwood, flowering quince, witch hazel, peaches, flowering almonds or ornamental plums. Just snip a few branches, split the ends slightly and put them in a vase of water in a warm, bright room. Change the water every two to three days.
Acid-loving indoor plants such as lemon, orange and lime trees, as well as potted gardenias, can be given a treat with a solution that contains 1 teaspoon of vinegar to 1 quart of water.
Get your fruit trees off to a good start by fertilizing them before they begin to flower.
Fruit trees such as apples, pears, plums and peaches should be sprayed with a dormant oil to cut down on insect problems during the growing season to come. Only spray when freezing temperatures are not forecast for at least 24 hours.
Vegetable gardeners, itís planting time! Cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions, sugar snap peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach and turnips can all go in the veggie patch this month.
Bark, bark, bark! Without your dog, visit local arboretums or botanical gardens to discover the beauty of winter bark from such cool-season showoffs as paperbark maple, red-twig and yellow-twig dogwoods, coral bark maple, Chinese lacebark elm, yellowwood, climbing hydrangea, lacebark pine, river birch and crape myrtle. Then, plan to incorporate one or more interesting specimens to light up the dull winter landscape with unexpected color.
Early February often brings deep cold. Don't uncover roses, prune or plant when temperatures drop below freezing.
On mild days, plant bare-root roses and fruit trees.
Mid-month, pull mulch partly away from emerging bulbs and perennials; hunt hidden slugs.
Bring pots of hardy bulbs into warmth and light for early bloom.
Start broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower indoors under a fluorescent shop light.
At month's end, move starts into a cold frame or sheltered outdoor location to toughen.
Starlings pecking at turf help remove soil grubs such as crane fly.
Check lawn for standing puddles. Correct drainage, or replace lawn with better adapted ground covers.
Plant your cool-season veggies such as lettuce, carrots, turnips, spinach and radishes.
Growing annuals from seeds usually offers the largest varieties for gardeners. Now is a good time to start up the seed trays indoors.
Trees and shrubs that are beginning to stir will benefit from an application of time-release fertilizer now.
Do mild stretching exercises daily to tone up winter-weary muscles for the pushing, pulling, reaching, grabbing, bending and digging to come.
As new leaves start to appear on roses, begin regular fungicide applications to prevent rust, black spot and powdery mildew.
Want to try an Earth-friendly fungicide on your roses? Mix a tablespoon of baking soda and a drop or two of liquid detergent into a gallon of water. This should be sprayed on foliage regularly throughout the growing season.
Many summer-bloomers such as althea, crape myrtle, oleander, buddleia, pomegranate and vitex flower on new wood, so prune early this month to encourage more blooms.
Early-blooming shrubs such as spirea, forsythia and flowering quince are best pruned after their flowers fade.
New plants and fresh foliage attract old enemies. Watch for aphids attacking the developing leaves, and cutworms cutting down young annuals as they emerge from the ground.
If your Camellia japonica specimens are still lighting up the landscape, rake up the spent flowers weekly and dispose of them to prevent camellia petal blight.
Migrating birds will soon be returning, so clean old nests out of birdhouses, wash the birdbath and remove old seed from feeders.
Plants need nutrients now during their growth spurt. Fertilize the garden.
Prune and feed roses.
Divide perennials that bloom after mid-June.
Share extra plants with neighbors or a school.
Dig garden beds deeply. Add fertilizer and compost.
Transplant February cabbage-family seedlings outdoors.
Start tomatoes, peppers and eggplant under lights.
Visit local dahlia growers to choose for next spring.
Keep all flowers picked.
Water trees and shrubs less; allow them to harden off.
Harvest abound. Enjoy the bounty.
Raw or light cooked vegetables retain the most vitamins.
Plant a winter cabbage such as Early Jersey Wakefield early in the month.
Sow winter choys and mustards--try Tokyo Beau and Mizuma.
When rains come, fertilize with 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer, using a slow-release formula.
Late in the month, begin fall lawn renovation, thatching, aerating and over-seeding.
Plan and install new lawns with seed or sod.
Additional gardening tips
Pick pears when they begin to lose the grass-green skin color and become yellowish green.
Pick apples when they have attained the proper skin color and the flesh is white or creamy, not green. Pick before they lose their astringent, starchy flavor.
Pick up fruit that has dropped on the ground. If left, it may attract rodents, fruit flies, and yellow-jackets. Decaying fruit can be incorporated into your compost pile, if not diseased. If it is, bury it deeply in the ground.
Apple anthracnose, a disease that causes cankers on branches and eventually kills them, should be controlled before the rainy season begins. Prune out infected branches and apply a fixed copper spray to the tree.
Reduce the spread of dogwood anthracnose now by pruning out dead twigs and raking up infected leaves as they fall.
Pick ornamental gourds after the stems turn brown and the vines begin to dry. If picked too early, the gourds will not last.
If you notice black lesions on tomato fruit, leaves, or stems, apply a fixed copper spray immediately. You may be able to stop this disease (late blight fungus) which can wipe out your crop.
Evergreen shrubs and trees can be transplanted. Fall is a good time to plant or transplant most woody plants.
Apples that will be stored should be picked before fully ripened.
Potatoes that will be stored should not be dug until after the vines die. If they are reluctant to die, cut them off close to the ground and wait a week before digging.
Controlling slugs now, during their breeding season, should result in fewer next year. (See EB0968).
After harvest, avoid storing apples or onions with potatoes or carrots. The ethylene gas given off by the apples and onions will cause potatoes to sprout, and the carrots will taste awful.
Before the end of the month, bring in houseplants that summered outdoors.
To get poinsettias to develop flower bracts by Christmas, give them 16 hours of total darkness each night and bright light for the other 8 hours of the day.
Old lawns can be dethatched, aerified, and over-seeded now.
September is a good month to install new lawns, either from seed or sod.
Trim summer-flowering heathers as they finish blooming.
Sharpen shovels and tools--it's a great planting month!
Divide and add new perennials, plant ground covers, shrubs and trees.
Transplant from now through March.
Choose and plant crocus, daffodils, and tulips.
Plant garlic cloves now for a pungent harvest next summer.
Compost garden wastes as you tidy for winter.
Sow a green manure crop such as crimson clover, vetch or field peas, in empty spaces.
Green manures suppress weeds and add nitrogen and organic matter when dug in next spring.
Thatch, aerate and install sod.
Top dress with a light layer of sift compost if lawn was planted with very little organic matter.
Turn off irrigation system.
Additional gardening tips
Fall is a good time for a soil test. If your soil is too acid (low pH), you can apply lime. It takes about three months for agricultural or dolomite lime to actually raise the pH.
Plant winter cover crops now. Winter wheat, crimson clover, annual ryegrass, and fava beans are some options. They can be tilled under next spring.
Most plants transplant best in fall. However, wait to move magnolias and dogwoods in late winter or early spring.
Dig geraniums, tuberous begonias, dahlias, and glads. Store where they will be protected from frost. If dahlia roots or glads are at least six inches deep, they will probably survive the winter in the ground, especially if covered with a few inches of mulch
Store fuchsias where they won't freeze or dry out. Hardy fuchsias can remain in the ground if mulched.
Protect tomatoes from frost. Cover if frost is expected, or pick them and ripen inside. They don't need light to ripen.
Plant garlic this month.
Rake leaves from lawn frequently so they don't smother the grass.
Use healthy leaves as a mulch or compost them.
Diseased leaves, fruit, and twigs should not be composted.
Keep the lawn mowed to the recommended height: 1/2 to 3/4 inches for bent-grass: 1 to 1 1/4 inches for fescue-rye combinations.
Winter pears and kiwis should be stored for a month or so at a temperature slightly above 32į F. Then they can be ripened at room temperature.
Oven dry walnuts and filberts at 95į F. - 100į F. after harvest, or they will turn rancid in storage.
Finish garden cleanup and weeding; leave some seeds on flowers for birds.
Mulch roses but don't prune severely now.
Move container plants into winter shelter
Plant out onion transplants sown in July; they'll be ready next June.
Spread dolomite lime over beds that haven't received lime or wood ashes for the past two years.
Pile fall leaves over unplanted areas and over any root crops saved for winter eating.
Late in the month, apply winter fertilization, which is vital to maintain turf in good health.
Mow when ground condition permits. Grass grows slowly throughout the winter.
Additional gardening tips
Fertilize your lawn at the end of November to help retain a deep green color through the winter. Use a fertilizer with approximately a 3-1-2 (N-P-K) ratio. For late fall use, choose a fertilizer that contains mainly a slow-release form of nitrogen. Highly soluble nitrogen can leach away rapidly, not only being lost to the grass, but possibly contributing to groundwater pollution.
If moss is a problem in your lawn, you may apply an iron compound to kill it. But unless you correct the excess shade, soil compaction, or poor fertilizer practices, it will return. Contrary to popular belief, lime will not control moss, though it may benefit your grass.
This is a good time to take cuttings from rhododendron, camellia, photinia, and laurel (see PNW 152, Propagating Deciduous and Evergreen Shrubs, Trees, and Vines with Cuttings).
Garlic, onion sets, and peas can still be planted.
Don't remove the foliage and stems from rhubarb, asparagus, and artichokes if they are still green and healthy. Wait until the really cold weather comes.
Rhubarb and artichoke roots can be planted if available in nurseries.
Blueberries, currants, gooseberries, grapes, kiwis, and cane-berries can be planted now and through the winter so long as the soil is not frozen.
Cut raspberry canes to 5 feet and tie them to a trellis.
Cut off the top sections of ever-bearing raspberry canes that fruited this fall. The lower parts of the canes will fruit again next summer.
It is best to withhold fertilizer from houseplants from mid-November to mid-March unless they are actively growing.
Ask for a cold frame to extend your gardening season!
Be grateful for the blessing of harvests.
Do winter fertilization if you didn't complete this task in late November.
Rake leaves and litter off lawn.
Extend Your Gardening Season
Don't forget, when you push your gardening season at both ends and learn ways to get around the heat and the cold of your weather, you can have stuff in the ground for storage or growing to supply your table with fresh food. Set up hay bales on 3 sides with plastic over the top and hanging down the 4th side held by bricks to start some cold-weather crops. If it gets too cold use blankets on top of that with water containers painted black to hold in heat through the snow. Look for seeds that can tolerate real cold temps!