Some days the winter wind is a-blowin’ and the ground is frozen. Other days there’s a thick layer of fog weighing down your spirit. Or it’s raining. But on those sunny, mild West Coast winter days you want to get out in the garden and DO something! Resist. It’s not quite spring yet.
On days like that it’s hard to resist pulling away the protective layer of leaf mulch and ‘cleaning’ up ready for spring. You want to toss down fertilizer to make your leafy shrubs green and you want to start pruning and shaping.
This is a friendly reminder that we’re not out of the winter woods quite yet. Since I can remember we’ve typically had unspring-like weather in February, even in March, and I urge you to resist doing too much in the garden that might be detrimental down the road.
For example, if you were kind enough to your plants to add a layer of leaf mulch to your garden in the fall, leave it on. You can pull it back to expose early blooming bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops but for the most part keep the soil covered if you can. Not only is it adding a layer of protection against the cold for your plants but it’s also protecting the microorganisms in the soil against the elements and its providing hiding places for good bugs. Sure, it may be also helping out bad bugs but hopefully the good bugs will reign supreme come spring.
I pulled back an area to expose a few crocus that were blooming the other day but by the next morning the flowers were nipped off, the likely culprit a rabbit, so sometimes it’s better to keep them hidden and just have a peek now and then.
Don’t go too crazy with the pruners if we’re expecting a really cold snap but that doesn’t mean you can’t prune now. I’m not a huge follower of the ‘rules’ of gardening since I’m usually too busy at the garden centre when I’m ‘suppose’ to be doing something in my own garden. I catch up in July and August or the dead of winter, probably the worst months to do most things according to those who have made the ‘rule book’ but my garden turns out just fine and I’ve rarely lost something to pruning out of season.
My general rule of thumb is to prune no more than 30% off at any given time. That way the plant can recover and if you mess up then it’s less likely to show. An exception to this would be when you’re cutting things down closer to the ground such as clematis or roses or doing a radical pruning from die back on shrubs such as Choisya which respond well to that sort of treatment. Prune summer flowering shrubs now and leave spring flowering ones alone otherwise you’ll just have a shrub with no flowers.
Rhododendrons can be fed a fertilizer made specifically for them anytime now before they bloom and then again after they bloom. If the leaves are looking less than rich, dark green you can mulch with a good layer of Sea Soil, keeping the mulch a few inches away from the trunk of the plant otherwise the trunk will rot. The same goes for Camellias, Pieris, laurel bushes, basically anything evergreen. The organic goodness of the Sea Soil will help to green things up and provide a protective layer on the soil.
Begonia tubers are in stock at Cultivate so shop now for best selection if you like to try your hand at starting them indoors. Easy to grow and available in way more colours than you’ll ever find as a bedding plant. For more information see my article on growing begonias in the article section of the Cultivate web page at www.cultivategarden.com.
While it may feel like spring is on its way (and believe me I hope it is), be cautious in your gardening chores. It will be here soon enough. When you hear lawn mowers you’ll know spring has arrived.