"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant".
Anne Bradstreet

Winter chores in the garden

1. Fluff up the mulch in flower beds, around foundation plantings, and trees. Mulch tends to mat as a result of alternate freezing and thawing during winter, forcing water to run off certain areas rather than seep into the soil. When this happens, plants--especially evergreens--don't get the moisture they need. Using a pitchfork, flip the mulch and fluff it lightly. By fluffing the mulch, water can easily penetrate the soil in the root zone of plants; as a bonus, it will look like you just spread fresh mulch! And if your foundation plantings and trees in the lawn have bare soil around them, mulch, mulch, mulch! But don't pile it on too deep. A 2" layer is just right, keeping it away from the trunk of the tree.

2. Prepare planting beds. Late winter is the ideal time to clean up flowerbeds and the vegetable gardens by applying a layer of compost over the beds. On new garden sites that were lawn areas or were heavily infested with weeds, consider using an approved chemical to kill existing plants before turning the soil. Plow or turn soil to a depth of 7 or 8 inches. Leave fall-plowed land rough until spring.

Many garden tillers are not adequate equipment for the initial breaking of soil in a new garden site. Starting in early spring, disc or rake the soil several times at regular intervals to keep down weeds and to give a smooth, clod-free planting bed.

If you did not plow or spade the garden site in the fall, turn the soil in spring as soon as it is dry enough to work. A good test to determine if the soil can be worked is to mold a handful of soil into a ball. If the ball is not sticky but crumbles readily when pressed with your thumb, the soil is in good condition.

If you did not apply recommended lime to the garden site in the fall, apply both lime and recommended fertilizer in the spring. Plow or spade the soil, spread the lime and fertilizer, and mix it in with a disc, harrow, or rototiller.

Pulverize the soil and get a smooth, level surface by raking as soon as possible after turning. This helps to firm the soil, break up clods, and leave a smooth surface for seeding. Soil left in rough condition for several days after turning in the spring may dry out and form hard clods, making it much more difficult to prepare a good seedbed.

3. Give ornamental grasses their annual haircut. An easy quick way to cut them back is to tie some string around the entire clump and knot it tightly. Then when you cut the grass back, all the blades will be neatly tied up in a bundle.

4. Weed-infested lawns will benefit from an application of pre-emergent herbicide.
Weed Prevention in the Lawn & Landscape

5. Late winter is also a good time to get power equipment serviced. If you wait until spring to have your equipment serviced, the service departments are going to be busy with the spring rush of gardeners. If you start early before the lines begin to form, you will be able to pick up your equipment in a few days rather than a few weeks.

6. Winter in north Georgia is a good time for the gardener, too. Mild days are perfect for doing chores such as planting dormant shrubs and trees, pruning, raking, sanitizing patio pots, starting seeds, and getting fresh air and exercise. You’ll get a head start on spring so you won’t be overwhelmed with too many tasks come April. After all, March and April are for planting flowers and vegetables!

7. Use this time spent indoors to check your houseplants: divide and re-pot any pot-bound plants. Prune judiciously to create a compact, attractive specimen.

Remove aphids from houseplants with a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water and add a drop of dishwashing detergent. Apply this to troubled plants with a soft brush.

Open the doors and windows when temperatures permit to give your house a change of air. This will benefit you and your houseplants.

Provide extra protection to sensitive houseplants on window sills if it is very cold. Don't let the foliage touch the window panes.

Place all your houseplants together in the tub and turn on the shower head with warm water to remove the dust. You'll be amazed at how much your plants will love this hydrating bath! (an exception would be plants with fuzzy leaves such as African Violets that dislike getting their leaves wet)

8. Force a winter bouquet from cut branches of forsythia, pussy willow, deutzia, wisteria, lilac, apple, peach, or pear. Bruise the cut ends and set them in water. Spray the branches frequently. Keep them in a cool place until they bloom, then move to a warmer area for display.

9. Start a garden record book now, allowing space to record the dates of first and last frosts, sowing seeds, planting, transplanting, time of bloom, first fruits, fertilizing, problems with pests, and other information. Over a period of years, this will be an invaluable record.

10. Organize, clean, oil, and sharpen garden tools. A splash of bright paint on tool handles will make them easier to spot out in the yard.

11. Examine your yard from the kitchen window in the stark winter days, looking for places where an evergreen might go nicely that will be pretty to look at while doing the dishes.

12. Remember to supply fresh water for the birds. Along with suet cakes and sunflower seed, nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals, and juncos will enjoy any bread scraps you may have.

13. Late Winter Recommended for Pruning Chores
If you're itching to get outdoors and work in your yard, now's a good time to survey your landscape and decide what needs pruning. But keep in mind that not all plants need to be trimmed. If a plant is healthy and happy and has been planted where it can grow naturally, it’s sometimes best to leave it alone. This all depends on what it is. For example, roses and butterfly bushes should always be pruned in late winter but azaleas and dogwoods should be left to grow naturally if they were planted in the right place.

Landscape plants should be pruned to maintain or reduce their size, to remove undesirable growth, to remove dead or damaged branches, and to rejuvenate older plants to produce more vigorous foliage, flowers and fruits. In some cases, pruning is necessary to prevent damage to life and property.

Late winter or early spring, before new growth begins, is generally the best time to prune most plants. This is when the plant's wounds heal quickly, without threat of insect or disease infection. However, plants that bloom in spring, such as forsythia, azaleas, hydrangeas, and quince should be pruned later in spring after their blooms fade if you want to have flowers that season. These early bloomers produce their flower buds on last year's wood, so pruning early will remove many potential blooms. However, if you have a spring-blooming plant that has gotten too large and needs a drastic pruning, late winter while the plant is dormant is the best time. You won’t get many flowers that year but the plant will be less stressed than if you do a drastic pruning later in the season. Trees that have large quantities of sap in the spring, such as maple, birch and dogwood, are not harmed by early spring pruning but can be pruned in mid-summer or late fall to avoid the sap bleeding.

It's best to allow a tree or shrub to develop its natural shape as much as possible. However, removing selected branches because they are weak or formed at a poor angle to the trunk will help the rest of plant receive more sunlight. Thin this type of growth by removing unwanted branches at the base of the plant. On a tree, make the cut just beyond the branch collar, which is the ridge of bark that surrounds the junction of that branch to its point of origin. This will leave a very short stub that will heal over quickly.

Evergreen conifers such as pines, juniper, and arborvitae are not pruned by the same methods as other plants. If a limb has no green needles or small branches inside of where you want to make your cut, the limb will not send out any new growth and usually will eventually die. Conifers should be sheared lightly from the time they are planted to keep them in the desired shape, instead of letting them grow out of bounds and then having to drastically cut them back.
Shrubs that have become overgrown, or stopped flowering like they used to, might benefit from renewal pruning. Each winter for the next three years, remove about one-third of the oldest, largest-diameter stems, all the way back to the ground. The other two-thirds can be headed back about one-third of their height by cutting back to an outward-facing bud or side branch. After the third year, all of the plant's stems will be no older than 3 years. Nandina and forsythia are two examples of plants that benefit from renewal pruning.

Whatever the tree or shrub, remember that topping or haircut trimming are not good for the plant. Topping results in numerous, fast-growing new shoots that do not look good and they are much weaker and more susceptible to wood rots than the original growth, and are more likely to cause damage to property and power lines.

Winter Garden Care
Hall County Agribusiness of the year 2007
Garden Care
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Hwy 283, Clermont, Georgia

) Phone: 770.842.2345

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Photo: from left: Billy Skaggs
(Hall County
Extension Director)
Kellie and Tim Bowen
(Owners of Full Bloom Nursery)

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