Monarch butterfly pollinating a cosmos.
Gardening Mojo Is Back in Town
By Chris Cohan
Recently arrived credit card bills confirm the holidays are over. On the bright side, days are growing longer. When the sun does shine, each day is warmer than before, prompting the occasional snowdrop to bloom. Let these little bulbs’ tenacity inspire your gardening mojo.
Snow is a natural insulator for garden beds and plants. Minimal, or worse, no snow cover spells trouble for plants. Add mulch all around. Especially to those newly worked beds and small shrubs planted in the fall. Free woodchips, as a mulch, can be had from many landscapers and tree services, but only if you ask nicely and don’t threaten to take away their leaf blowers.
During winter thaws, over 40 degrees is the right time to treat most plants with dormant oil spray. This is the most vital garden task you can undertake this time of year. The oil will kill overwintering pests. Check product label before spraying evergreens. Also, if you are feeling clever, multitask by adding anti-desiccant to sprayer. Antidesiccants, such as Wilt-Pruf, help defend your plants against unforgiving winter winds. Consider retreating with the combo spray in late February, especially if there is little snow cover.
Now is a good time to prune dead wood from your ornamental trees. Cut all water sprouts out of dogwoods, plums, and crabapples. Leave major pruning of them and other spring flowering trees and shrubs to after they bloom.
To ensure a clean cut, a three-step process is recommended. First, a partial cut under limb, then cut above and slightly farther out. Finish with a cut close and flush to trunk. Loppers can make quick one-step work of pruning small limbs.
There is the classic, lazy man style. He, and it’s almost always a He who attempts to hold a limb with one hand while making a single saw cut with other hand. The same self-assured fella can often be observed standing on top of a step ladder, his feet hiding the warning sign: ‘Never Stand on Top’.
More than 165,000 emergency room-treated injuries and 300 deaths in the U.S. are caused by falls from ladders, according to the World Health Organization. Most ladder deaths are due to falls of ten feet or less. So be warned, or double life insurance on that Darwinian daredevil.
Every gardener intent on keeping their property flowering from spring to hard frost needs some annuals. While you sit in front of an evening fire thumbing through colorful catalogues, you will be seduced by many offerings. Consider fewer varieties, but mass them for impact. Choose plants that are beautiful, long-flowering, and attract charming pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies, and native bees to your garden. The four annuals below are great for massing and offer high performance with low care.
<<Cosmos>> come in short or tall varieties. Plant en masse, as they are lightning rods as far as attracting monarch butterflies. They provide a charming sight swaying in the wind, sending feeding monarchs into flight only to flitter back again.
<<Cleomes>> are like weeds in their determination to grow and thrive. Their racemes elongate to several feet, producing flowers that possess a mild scent, attract pollinators, and repel deer. Once established, these prodigious seed producers should come back.
<<Zinnias>> are New World flowers that have been hybridized to offer a height and colors for everyone’s taste. They respond well to pruning, which keeps them from getting leggy, as well as providing summer-long bouquets for floral displays.
The varieties of <<Sunflowers>> range from tiny to Russian Giants, which rumor has it was the former president’s favorite. The tall varieties can be used for back-of-border massing and to create privacy. Seeds are big, easy to handle, and always a winner with kids. They germinate fast and grow rapidly into big plants. Fun to take photographs of budding gardeners next to sunflowers every week as plants grow.
To guarantee the return of many annuals, stop whomever from going crazy with a leaf blower and removing all that loose, friable material from the base of beds each fall. Leave a lot of it as seed bed, overwintering sites for good insects, pollinators, improving your soil. Leave it, aka less is more.
Don’t forget to order those annual flowering plant seeds now. Have them ready to start indoors early or as soon as possible outside. Anticipation of a new garden will get your early season garden mojo started.