Winter is not a gardener’s happy time. It’s cold all day and dark early. Not surprisingly, all the sappy garden guides tell us to sit cheerfully inside, make little X’s on graph paper to mark the new peonies, and wait patiently for spring.
Gardeners, don’t fall for that.
Sitting inside all winter looking at photographs of gardens that look better then yours ever will is not therapeutic. Designing extensive perennial beds you can’t afford does not increase your basic contentment. Personally, it makes me want to hide under the bed and whimper. Or break things.
Gardeners like to garden. We need to garden. Without this outlet, we suffer low spirits, frustration, stress, and ill health. And contrary to conventional wisdom, winter is a critical time to work in the yard. So bundle up, get outside, and I guarantee that the bloom on your cheeks will show up in your garden come spring. Here are some things you can accomplish in the garden in the dead of winter:
There is no better time to prune almost anything in your garden than late winter. Almost anything, I said. Don’t prune spring-flowering shrubs. No garden hydrangeas (the pink and blue ones), azaleas, rhododendrons, forsythias, or witch hazel.
Why do you prune? Because young shade trees come from the nursery rather like young children go off to school. The basics are there, but they need years of schooling.
As a tree grows taller, its branches stay put. If a branch is 5 feet from the ground now, it will pretty much stay there forever. A nice shade tree should have its lowest branches way above your head. You want to be able to mow, plant, or drive a truck beneath them.
However, the more leaves that a young tree has, the faster it will grow. Consequently, you need to leave the low branches because they have the most leaves.
The best guideline for when to prune is as follows: When the lower branches are a little larger than your thumb, cut them off. Remove a few branches every year. Prune regularly and your tree will be much better for it.
Pruning is hard work, and it’s important to buy decent tools. To begin you’ll need: 1. A sharp pair of hand pruners; 2. A sharp pruning saw; 3. A heavy pair of long-handled loppers.
To know where to make your cut, do as follows: Hold your left hand in front of your face, palm out. Spread your thumb and close your fingers. Think of your fingers and arm as the trunk, your thumb as the branch. You want to cut the branch at the thumb knuckle (the bump around the branch next to the trunk). Cut the branch just outside that knuckle. Cut less if you think the bark might tear.
You should prune branches that rub against each other as well as any branches that grow at odd angles or toward the center of the tree. It’s best also to remove damaged, dead, or ugly branches as well as competing leaders (a trunk that divides low on the tree). Large growing shade trees should have a long, clean trunk rising from the ground to way up in the sky before that trunk divides. If the trunk divides low on the tree, multiple, competing leaders result. Some treesthe Bradford pear is a good examplenaturally have a tightly clustered branching habit and have to be pruned carefully.
The trunk of a tree is heavy. Two or more trunks, all growing skyward, all carrying big branches, result in lousy weight distribution and will split the tree apart. Then you have that most awful sighthalf a tree. Half a Bradford pear is becoming the identifying mark of established Brentwood neighborhoods, and my oh my, are they ugly. Cut them now, in winter, so that they’re prepared for the strong sun of spring and summer. Once a tree is big and old, there’s little you can do about it.
Remove the ugly
Most of us have hideous stuff in our yards. Half a Bradford pear is a good example. Why in the world would anyone keep half a tree?
In gardening, ugliness should be a death sentence. If it’s ugly, chop it down. Gardeners have little need for sentimentality. None of this “trees have souls” stuff. That’s California talk, and we’re gardeners. Southern gardeners. We are tough.
I deem the following things ugly:
1. Trees that have died and, behold, return! And others with them!
Unfortunately, this isn’t a miracleit’s a disaster. Out in the middle of your yard you have an unholy miscegenation of re-sprouted hackberry, bush honeysuckle, rose of Sharon, and heaven knows what else. You keep it because at mid-summer the rose of Sharon grudgingly brings forth five or seven flat, pink, purple, or white flowers. This is not attractive. Begone with the ugly. Trust me, you’ll work up a sweat and your garden will be more beautiful.
2. Flowering shrubs that don’t flower.
Let’s decide something between us right now. There is nothing homelier than most forsythias. You knowit’s that plant that blooms beautifully, fleetingly yellow in the early spring. If the freeze doesn’t get it, they’re temporarily greatunless they’re in the shade. Or your spouse, a notoriously controlling neurotic, diligently prunes them into little round balls every year.
In either case, they hardly bloom at all. And when not in bloom, they look like a pile of sticks. Why keep them? Be it crepe myrtle, forsythia, spirea, or roseget rid of this ugliness.
3. Butchered shrubs.
You have a juniper that grew too tall. So you chopped the top off right below your window. But it kept growing. You kept chopping. Now you have a plant that has one foot of foliage and five feet of hacked stems. Out with it.
You have a yew by the front porch. It’s been trimmed for years. Now it’s four feet tall, six feet wide, and the center is dead. Dig it up and be done with it.
You have a thuja (it used to be called arborvitae) that the bagworms got to one year. Half of it’s dead, half of it’s alive. Get rid of the whole thing.
You have a dwarfed Alberta spruce that has big, dead holes through it.
“I paid a lot for that shrub!” is not a good enough reason to keep something nasty in view of innocent children and blameless passersby. Remove it from view. Permanently.
Maybe we can’t conjure manners from our children, raise our bosses’ intelligence level, or get respect from our spouses. But we can do something about our yard.
So get out there, chop it all down, and root it all out this winter. Hack and flail and rip during these cold months, and you will reap the rewards come spring. Plus, you can use an axgood for anyone with cabin fever and latent aggressive tendencies. Not only should this exorcise any winter demons, it will exercise sedentary bodies. Both are good things during these short days and long, long nights.
@peoplepowernow: So you're saying gays are just extremely friendly to each other but do not…
Not all builders are the bad guys. Plenty of us build size and style appropriate…
It being Christmas time...I worry about Rulpod Red Nose Raindeer' other end...
I don't know, lot guys in Duckwear, enjoy squealing like a pig.....Maybe,he planning remake of…
In regards to Rhio Hirsch's response "Not too jazzed" I have to speak up as…