By Jane Milliman
As winter marches on, we avid gardeners become more and more eager to get going. You may not be able to get a spade in the soil just yet, but there is plenty you can do now that you’ll thank yourself for later. As you wait for warmer weather, try these home gardening tips.
The occasional warm day offers a perfect opportunity to get rid of perennial weeds, provided the ground isn’t frozen solid. Pull these now to save yourself from pulling hundreds of their offspring later.
If you’ve put any woody plants in—trees and shrubs, that is—over the past three years, be diligent about not letting them dry out. First of all, you must never let new plantings go into the winter dry. They need to take water up through their roots before the ground freezes, or they’ll experience the weakening effects of drought just like in any other season. Even though they’re dormant, they’re still transpiring, or “exhaling” water vapor. And if the weather breaks and the ground thaws, especially if it’s windy or sunny—two conditions that cause plants to transpire even more—go ahead and water them, as counterintuitive as that may seem.
An antitranspirant or antidesiccant spray can also be very effective, especially when applied to broad-leaved evergreens and rhododendrons. The sprays cover the lenticels and stomata, pores just like the ones on your body, with a waxy substance that slows moisture loss.
Tend to Your Tools
When you’re done watering, make sure to drain the hose and disconnect it from both ends. Water can freeze inside hoses—and nozzles—causing them to burst. If twisting off hoses at both ends seems like a hassle (and it is), install Quick Connectors and do it in seconds. I have been a rabid fan of this handy accessory for twenty years and only use brass. I’ve never had to replace one, even after constant use.
While you’re at it, take care of any hose repair that needs to be done now, before things get really busy. It’s also a great time to clean and sharpen those gardening tools.
Protect Your Plants
If smaller, less well-established plants (usually perennials like coral bells) have been pushed out of their planting holes, or “heaved,” due to a freeze-thaw cycle, tuck them back in. If the ground is soft, water as you did when you first planted them.
Plan for Sunny Days
One of my favorite off-season tasks is to review what did and didn’t work over the previous growing season. When planting, I never throw away tags. Sometimes they stay in the garden (underneath a sizable rock, so they don’t degrade as quickly as if they were exposed to the elements). If a plant dies, its tag goes into the “plant graveyard.” If it performs so well year after year that it becomes a classic, it finds a place of honor on the garage wall.
Got a stack of gardening magazines to plow through and a list of the books you want to buy? There’s no time like the present. The down season offers a chance to catch up on trends, visit social networking sites, dream and plan for Betterdays to come.
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