As I wandered the garden yesterday under a drizzling gray sky, I saw some excellent signs of the coming season both in plants as well as in the growing list of garden work I have to do. Check out the Witch Hazel Hamamelis mollis "Goldcrest" blooming like crazy! It started about 10 days ago and their still going. Everything seems to love this record warm January!
The Iris reticulata and Crocus and are coming up in full force, so I cleared the leaves away for use as for compost elsewhere and let the little bulbs shine!
In the garden, there's a good deal of cutting back of the leftover perennials, the selective pruning of some shrubs. I have a few overgrown Cornus re-twigs that will need a thorough whacking late in the month as the buds begin to fatten. This year I'll take them down hard to get that bright new red-twig growth as the season progresses. Some gardeners like to do this every year, but I prefer to do it every 2 or 3 years to keep that winter and spring color happening before the leaves come in.
I'll also be taking back the Miscanthus grasses this month, and any other similar deciduous grasses that need their yearly cleanup. To mow them down too early leaves them open to winter rot, but to do it too late causes you to cut into the new growth. In the case of these grasses, I'd err on the side of later, but February, just when you start to see some color on the stems is a great time to give the deciduous grasses their renovation. Also, check to see if perhaps they are in need of division as they often like to outgrow the places in the garden to which they are well suited. You can use a shovel to dig it up and I like to use an old "spent" pruning saw that we call a "root saw" to cut them in half or quarters. Then you can remove parts and reset the smaller sized plants back into the space. Hard work, but satisfying!
I found a Hellebore Orientalis' salvaged from a yard last fall. I had tossed the poor remnant into a five gallon container with a bit of soil and just left it there under a spirea. There it sat all winter, on it's side, but when I found it, it was on the edge of blooming and ready to go. I cut off the old fronds and tucked it into a container on my step while it blooms. I'll find it's new home during the spring cleanup.
Another Hellebore foetidus (below) has a nice home near my overgrown phormium, but as you can see if you look closely at the damaged leaves -- Damn, the beastly slugs or snails!! You won't win! I'll be getting the coffee grounds out there as the first hopeful line of defense.
The Phormium (New Zealand flax) behind that hellebore, that had just barely made it through the previous winter '08-09, looks, well, not so good. While they thrived in our record warm summer (with just a little irrigation), they did not like the record cold temps of December. Just after taking this pic of the hellebore, I took it down all the way. Soon, I'll probably be digging the whole thing up, shrinking it's root ball size and re-setting it for the spring and we'll hope for new growth. I am not too sure that Phormiums will be the mainstay in the Northwest that they have been for so many years, but we'll see how it goes this year. They will probably need to be phased out as the climate changes. I can cautiously say that we're thinking they will still work for well-drained, sunny and protected spots in the garden. But don't quote me on that...
And here's the first happy Camelia japonica bloom in my garden. It comes from an ancient shrub that was terribly "pruned" prior to my moving it and so far I've only done some minimal thinning and shaping. I've been waiting for it to recover for years and this year might be the time I go ahead and attempt to restructure it.
* Cut back deciduous grasses, divide if needed.
* Cut back remaining perennials (if any). I had some daisies and perovskia to bring back to the new growth. I'm going to go ahead and cut back a few of my fuchsia's as I am already seeing some strong growth down low. If there's not sign of new growth, leave them alone for a while.
*Begin to uncover the winter survivors (hellebores, bulbs, etc)
*Lightly prune any maples (if needed) and other deciduous ornamental trees.
*Shape and prune fruit trees.
*Remove anything that has, for sure, not made it through the winter. Anything that might still be viable you'll want to wait until March for that final decision.
*Plant some winter color to add to the spring cheer!
Finally, if questions arise, feel free to call or email us here at City People's Design and Landscape. You might walk through your garden, see how much work there actually is and realize that this is the perfect time for a quick, efficient garden cleanup. Call us we'll send a crew to get you all set for the coming spring!
Thanks for reading and Happy Gardening!