IN other parts of the country, everyone can settle in for a long winter’s nap, including the garden. Snow blankets the landscape and it is way too cold to go out to play.
From now until spring, we Las Crucens can gloat to our friends and relatives living in less gentle climates. We will have sun practically everyday, and most of the cold we suffer will be at night when we are tucked snug in our beds. During the day, we enjoy shirtsleeve weather. Which means we can do our preparations for spring in gentle efforts throughout the winter.
TIDY UP THE GARDEN
So what to do first on a sunny January day that entices you outside? To prevent pest infestations in the spring, get out and remove all the dead weeds and other brown stuff from your flower and vegetable gardens. Since it’s dead, most of it will pull up or whack down very easily. You will feel so virtuous after just a half hour when you see how clean and tidy it all looks. The leaf hopper that spreads a virus to the tomatoes in spring spends its winter in mustard weeds and other weeds.
When the weeding cleanup is completed, tackle the pruning jobs. The best time to prune is just before the leaf and flower buds on the trees unfurl. For some spring blooming trees and shrubs that is an early as January. The rose bushes may have leaves – and possibly buds, since this winter has been so warm, already.
PRUNE TREES, SHRUBS, AND PERENNIALS
First, prune out all the dead branches and stems. Then move on to pruning anything growing into the center of the tree or shrub. Be careful not to prune too much – especially on spring blooming shrubs, such as forsythia and quince. Try not to take off more than 1/3 of the plant material. Deadhead the dead stems of perennials down to the crown of green leaves hugging the ground. The plants always look so pretty and happy after their winter haircut.
MOVE GRAVEL AND ROCK
Since the temperatures are about half of what they are in the summer, we can work on hardscape projects, such as spreading gravel, placing flagstones, installing brick, pouring concrete, and other such large and heavy projects with no fear of heat exhaustion. Plus, we get a good workout for our muscles and maybe burn a few calories from December treat.
PREPARE BEDS FOR PLANTING
The early months of a new year are a prime time to prepare flower and vegetable garden beds. Spread manure, compost, fertilizers, and slow release nutrients over the top of the bed to be planted. Then, turn the soil over to mix the ingredients in and to expose any overwintering underground pests to the sun and night cold. By the time you are ready to plant in March or April, the soil improvements you added will have the broken down to provide nutrients for your new plants. You will have an amazing production of flowers and vegetables this year.
PLANT AND TRANSPLANT
Of course, for me, the only reason to do the clean-up and soil preparation is to plant lots of flowers and vegetables. There aren’t many vegetables and annual flowers we can plant in January and February. However, we can transplant and plant perennials, shrubs, and trees. As long as the plants you install were sitting outside in a nursery, which means their root balls are the same temperature as the ground in which you are planting them, they will settle in and begin growing new roots throughout our mild winter.
Moving a dormant plant from one cold spot to another also works very well at this time of year. The roots will have time to start expanding before the winds of spring and the heat of summer.
DREAM OF SPRING
Sadly, not every day in the winter is sunny and warm. We do have some storms. There are days we will spend indoors. Those are cozy days to go through seed catalogs and dream of spring gardens. Or visit the local nurseries to pick up seed packets of herbs, flowers, and vegetables, so we get an early start in the spring – and before the nurseries sell out of the packets of your favorite flower or vegetable.
Once we have our seeds, we can start flowers and vegetables indoors, if our schedule allows. Since most packets say to plant indoors a month or so before the last freeze, we likely will not want to start our seedlings indoors prior to the end of February.
If we tackle these garden tasks during winter, when our very short spring arrives, we are ready to plant. As the soil warms, we can plant our vegetables and flowers with ease, because the beds are prepared. We don’t spend our precious spring days weeding and pruning and turning the soil. What a great reward for our winter efforts!