Category Archives: February gardening tips

Pruning Roses for Bloom & Vigor

rose_pink_cabbageIn the spirit of practicing what I preach I set out to do a little pruning around the ‘ol homestead last week. Since I cut back the hydrangeas pretty hard last year this time round I did only a bit of shaping. The fuchsias haven’t gone totally dormant this year but as they bloom on new wood I cut them back by a third. Then I looked at the roses. I have a few climbers and several shrub roses. This is how I’m going to get the best rose show ever this year.

I want my roses to produce lots of roses on a compact shrub and not just a few OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAexhibition size blooms so I prune my shrubs moderately. My goal is to keep the center of the plant open for good air circulation aiming for a vase-shaped bush with an open center. I’ll cut out canes that cross, saving the better of the two, prune spindly and diseased stems and dead wood. I’ll also prune canes that appear weak or broken. Healthy canes appear green or reddish while old and dying canes are brown. Cut back the remaining stems by about third. When pruning, cut canes at a 45-degree angle just above an outward facing leaf bud or a swelling on the cane. Slant the cut away from the bud to encourage growth outward. Clean pruners after every use to prevent the spread of disease and keep your pruners sharp to make clean cuts.

rose_Hot_Cocoa.2048Heirlooms roses such as David Austin and other old antique garden roses require less pruning because their open look is part of their charm.

Same goes for climbing roses. Cut out extra stems if there are too many and also cut back long established canes to about the place where they are slightly thicker than a pencil. Then cut each side stem down to several inches. This will cause the cane to flower along its complete length for a beautiful spring display.

My roses still have many of last years’ leaves and are pushing new growth rose_Icebergalready. I know those old leaves will spread fungus spores and possibly infect the new growth so I’ll patiently pluck them off. If you have a huge climber this might not be possible and spraying with fungicide may be your only option if you’ve had disease problems in the past. Rake up the debris beneath the plant and discard to eliminate overwintering fungus spores. It’s a good idea to spray the bare plant, coating the trunk, branches and twigs and the surrounding soil with a combination organic horticultural oil to smother overwintering insect eggs and a dormant spray like lime-sulfur or copper soap to kill fungus spores. If you usually only have problems with black spot you can use a mixture of 1 teaspoon baking soda with a few drops of light horticultural oil in 1 quart water and spray every 7 to 10 days during the spring.

Pruning intimidates some gardeners but when you understand the reasons for making the cuts, pruning becomes less daunting. The reasons to prune are for health, appearance and to control size.

Prune your roses throughout the growing season, too. Deadheading, or cutting off spent flowers, encourages plants to rebloom. Every time you cut a rose bloom to bring it indoors or deadhead a fading rose, prune the stem down to shape the plant at the same time. Prune to a spot that has at least 5 leaflets. Roses grow from the point where they are cut, so consider the overall shape of the plant as you snip.

Don’t worry whether you’re pruning job is perfect. Roses are super forgiving and you can always trim them up again later. Roses are like redwoods -you can’t kill one- they’re the energizer bunnies of the plant world.

Early February – What to Do in the Garden

Blireana_budsGiven the strange weather we’ve had so far this winter I shouldn’t be surprised that many of the plants and trees are showing signs of life. I see white blossoms on Flowering pears and the huge pink flowers of Saucer magnolia starting to open. My Blireana flowering plum is covered with rosy buds ready to scent the garden with fragrance when they open. This mild weather signals the birds to eat as much as they can in preparation for the breeding season. The other morning an Anna’s hummingbird landed on the mulched ground to pick up a spider or insect. Hummingbirds seek out small insects during the breeding season as they contain the protein needed to start a family. Spring is afoot to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes.

Seemed I had so much time to complete my winter-dormant season gardening chores a month ago. But time has a way of getting away from you and now I need to do some of the more important tasks in the next few weeks. I’m not a “weekend warrior” type, preferring to enjoy working in my garden so I’ll just do a little here and there until I’ve gotten my list checked off. Here are my priorities.

I used to live in mostly shade where invasive and noxious weeds were not a Hedge_parsley_weedproblem. I now live in more sun in Bonny Doon and I am engaged in a great battle. There exists here an annual weed that produces seeds covered with tiny burrs. They stick to your socks, your shoelaces, your dog’s fur, your pants, your gardening gloves- anything that brushes against them and they are nearly impossible to remove. It’s called Hedge parsley or Torilis arvensis and now is the time to control it. If you have this weed on your property pay attention to the following advice. It applies to most any annual weed you might need to get rid of.

My goal is to prevent the production of seed in this obnoxious weed. Hedge parsley can set flower umbels as early as late spring so I still have some time to get a handle on it before the dreaded spiny balls appear to ruin my clothes and the dog’s fur. I prefer to use non-chemical control methods. These are more time consuming but life’s a trade off the way I see it.

In larger areas where I see this weed has germinated I can cut the taproot with a hoe or spade 1-2” below the surface. The seedlings look like small carrots or parsley now. Do not rototill or turn the soil. This will just bring up more buried seed.

I can also pull the seedlings while the soil is moist if they are growing next to or within a perennial or shrub. If some still persist when the flower stalks start to lengthen but well before they have gone to seed, I’ll mow or weed wack them down. I may have to do this a time or two but I’m determined that this noxious weed will not rule my life and prevent me from wandering on my hillside come fall. There’s a saying about weeds- “One year’s seeding means seven years’ weeding”.

I also might try a homemade natural weed herbicide in a few areas. The recipe is 1/2 gallon vinegar, 1/2 cup salt, 2 tablespoons dish soap. Worth a try on this annual weed. In a nutshell, weeding is one of my top priorities.

Later mid to late February I’ll have other tasks to add to my list. Right now I’ll concentrate on pruning roses, hydrangeas, fuchsias, fruit, nut and shade trees and deciduous vines like clematis. Cut back woody shrubs to stimulate lush new growth on plants like Mexican bush sage, artemisia and butterfly bush. You can cut back these plants close to the ground. Don’t use this approach on lavender or ceanothus, though. Prune them lightly after blooming.

I’ll also wait to prune back perennials that may have their new foliage damaged in a late frost. It’s been fairly mild at night lately but the next month or so can bring a cold snap.

I won’t prune spring flowering shrubs and trees like lilacs, flowering cherries, plums and crabapples, rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, weigela or spirea until after they flower.

As always spend as much time enjoying your garden as you can. Reward yourself for your efforts.

What to do in the Garden in February

flowering_plum.1024The unusually warm January weather has made the early flowering trees and shrubs bloom even earlier this year. Actually it’s not so unusual for us to have a warm streak around here in January. What is unusual is the prolonged dry and stable conditions we have encountered. The high pressure system that blocks our usual winter rains does not usually last more than 2-3 weeks even in the heart of the rainy season. The persistent ridge has not behaved in a typical manner. We can only hope the ridge breaks down in the next few months and brings us more than a smattering of rain here and there.  What should a gardener be doing in February?

Prune fruit trees. Smother overwintering eggs and insects by spraying with horticultural oil. quince_red.1280Combine your spray with lime-sulfur ( except on apricot trees ) or copper soap to kill fungal disease spores like the ones that cause peach-leaf curl. Spinosad has also been shown to supress fungal diseases. Do this when the buds swell but before they open. Do not spray 36 hours before rain in predicted. Be sure to spray the ground around each tree.

I recommend keeping winter pruning to a minimum and prune again in the summer time. Winter pruning is invigorating to fruit trees and there will be excessive vertical rebound growth, the witch’s broom-like riot of growth that emerges after a tree is given a haircut. Such growth is often dense and doesn’t bear much. A lot of the tree’s stored energy issued to produce all these unwanted branches, leaving much less for the production of fruit.

quince_red-closeup.1280Due to our unusual weather some low-chill fruit tree varieties like Fuji apples, many apricots, peaches, nectarines and pears such as Comice and Seckel, might break bud and flower earlier because of the winter freeze and then warm weather. Plants that flower prematurely risk losing those flowers if night temps plunge but the long-term health of the plant probably won’t be affected.

Strawberries are oblivious to the weather. Blackberries and some raspberries are another story. Like some fruit trees, their chilling requirements may have already been met, their buds are swelling and they’re ready to take off. A rapid chill could freeze the buds and the canes might begin to die from the top down. But even if the entire cane dies, healthy new canes will emerge in spring. The early summer berry crop could be lost but fall berries will be fine.

Prune woody shrubs  To stimulate lush new growth on plants like Mexican bush sage and artemisia cut them down to within a few inches of the ground. Don’t use this approach on lavender or ceanothus, though. Lightly prune them after blooming and don’t cut back to bare wood inside the plant.  Prune fuchsias back by a third and remove dead, crossing branches and interior twiggy growth. Container fuchsias can be cut back to the pot rim. You won’t be able to know for sure, until perhaps early summer, if the freeze killed plants like Coprosma, Echium, Tibouchina or lantana so be patient.

Cut back hydrangeas stems that bloomed last year if you haven’t already done so and apply a soil acidifier if you want the flowers blue. Coffee grounds, pine needles, peat moss and cottonseed meal are kind to your soil and the beneficial soil microorganisms.

Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs and trees like lilacs, flowering cherries, plums and crabapples,  rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, weigela or spirea until after they flower.  Cut some branches during flowering to bring in for bouquets.

Prune roses and rake up any debris beneath the plant to eliminate overwintering fungal spores. Remove any old leaves that still cling to the plant. Spray the stems and bare ground with a combination organic horticultural oil and a dormant spray.

Prune established perennials later in the month if you might get frost that could damage new foliage. Giving your maiden hair ferns a haircut now allows the new growth to come out fresh. Prune winter damaged fronds from your other ferns.

Divide perennials before new growth starts. Agapanthus, asters, coreopsis, daylilies, shasta daisy and liriope are plants that tend to become overcrowded and benefit from dividing.

Mother Nature knows how to adjust to changes in the weather- slowing down when it’s really cold and catching up when it’s mild.