This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
Here’s a continuation of last week’s list of late fall chores. Remember what I said… Try to accomplish most of them, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get them all done. These are suggestions that will help your plants survive the winter and get off to a healthy spring start.
BULBS: While I am pretty sure most retailers are sold out of spring-blooming bulbs, if you bought yours early and still haven’t planted them, it’s not too late. Get them in the ground ASAP and they should bloom right on time.
FLOWERS: This is a great time of the year to add some frost tolerant color to your containers and flowerbeds. Pansies and violas will give you the biggest bang for your buck, but there are lots of evergreen perennials that can add foliar color and texture all through the winter. So, don’t miss this late fall planting season or you will be forced to look at ugliness until next May.
BERRIES: For raspberries and blackberries, cut the canes back to five or six feet tall and attach them to a trellis, removing the two-year-old canes that produced this year (if you haven’t already removed them).
Everbearing raspberries can either be completely cut to the ground or you can leave the one-year old canes and they will produce next season like traditional raspberries.
If your raspberries are in a wet area, you should consider moving them to drier ground since they don’t like wet feet - do it while they are dormant. Blueberries only need a light pruning to remove any dead wood and to shape them. Don’t lime blueberries, they are like rhodies and azaleas and prefer an acid soil.
Strawberries need to be rejuvenated every few years. Use the runners to replace the mother plants for two or three years and then throw the whole lot away and buy some new ones. Strawberries are prone to virus diseases that will lead to declined growth.
GRAPES AND KIWIS: These plants are vigorous vines that need serious pruning every year, once they are established. Your best bet is to visit your garden center so they can show you firsthand how to prune these vines. Basically, you need to remove most of the twiggy growth so that all that is left is the main trunk and short side shoots (laterals), four to six inches in length and spaced every foot along the main trunk. Insufficient pruning leads to small fruit and mildew issues. Homeowners rarely prune these vines aggressively enough.
ROSES: “Hip high in the fall, knee high in the spring.” This is how you should be pruning most of your roses. In early March, you can finish the job by pruning out any dead wood and thinning out the canes to four or five per bush.
Climbing roses need to be secured to their trellis and the long canes shortened up just a little bit. These long canes will produce your first crop of flowers next spring so don’t cut them back too far.
After pruning and thoroughly cleaning around the base of the rose, apply some lime and then pile up some mulch about ten to twelve inches high to protect the graft union from a really ugly winter. A couple of bucks of mulch is a small price to pay for ensuring that your roses are going to survive the winter. A dormant spray of copper and oil is also a good idea to get a jump on insects and diseases.
WEED CONTROL/GENERAL CLEANUP: Where it is appropriate, leave leaf litter on the ground to smother weeds seeds and nourish the soil. Hold back on cutting down perennials/ornamental grasses until February and leave seed heads on dormant flowers and shrubs for feeding the birds.
It is great winter time entertainment to watch our avian friends scurry and rustle through the leaves looking for bugs and seeds to feast on. If you must prune and clean everything down to the bare ground, then make sure you spread some fresh mulch over the soil or you will be forever hoeing out weeds come spring.
Please remember that gardening is as much an art as it is a science. Don’t just go through the motions, but rather try to get in touch with your garden. It is a living, breathing organism that thrives on our love and attention. When you need help, turn to your local nursery professionals and let them share their passion with you. I promise, they won’t make you feel like a complete nincompoop (although I must admit I do enjoy lightly teasing gardeners now and again).
Enjoy the season, stay safe, and keep on gardening!
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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