Sunday, January 23, 2011


Wait, probably one of the words I have used the most often the past couple of weeks. One of the hardest words to udder for a gardener, let alone for a gardener to hear. As any of you that follow me here or on my Facebook page know, I have been screaming to get outside and do something. I, of course, have been sneaking out on some of the nicer days to do a few things, repot my Blueberries, plant some Lettuce and other cool season crops, planting some Onions, and started re-arranging some of the pots for the plants to soon go in them. I bring this up because I have gotten numerous phone calls and e-mails asking about a few things that people want to do in their yard.
First off, many want to start cleaning up their yards. WAIT! If your yard looks anything like the above picture, good for you. This isn't the best picture for my point, but it will do. I encourage people not to rake up their leaves in the Fall and let the dead plants stay there. This is Mother Natures blanket. It is protecting the roots from the nasty cold weather. So many people are worried that the neighbors will talk about how untidy the yard next door looks. Who Cares!?
How many neighborhoods have a "Yard of the Month" during the Winter? I would be willing to bet, none! Plus, as a bonus, that debris is feeding your plants. Think about the woods for a minute. I am not talking about the little patch of 50 trees at the end of the sub-division, I am talking the WOODS! Mountains, streams, lakes, you know....the place that so many like to go hike in? Does anybody rake up that plant litter? How well do the plants grow there? There is also nobody throwing any Miracle Gro around up there either. The food is provided by the decaying plant material.
Okay, fine, I won't rake up the leaves and clean up the yard. Can I trim the tall dead looking plants in my containers? WAIT!

These are containers of, Mexican Petunia, Bananas and Miscanthus in my yard. Basically the same principal applies here. We are coming to the end of January, still plenty more freezing temperatures coming. In 2010 we had a pretty significant snowfall in February. If I had cut this all back the snow and freezing temperatures might have done more damage than what it did do. The dead foliage is acting kind of like a mini greenhouse. It absorbs the heat during the day and keeps it bottled up through the night, thus protecting the roots. I usually wait until I either see new growth peeking out of the soil or the night time temperatures stay constantly in the 40's.
Makes sense so far?
What about going ahead and pruning some of my trees and bushes? WAIT!
This sad looking specimen is a Citrus tree. Republic of Texas Orange to be exact.  Believe it or not, it is still alive. Makes you want to take the pruners to it and cut off all that dead growth, huh?
Nope, not a good idea. First off, I am not sure of the extent of the damage. I may not cut enough off and will have to come back a second time, OR, I may cut off too much and take away some live wood.
Second, there is the chance I will initiate a premature flush of new growth which could be killed if/when we get another hard freeze. The best thing to do here is wait until the tree tells you it is time to prune. How? Again, when the temperatures are constantly staying in the 40's and there is a new flush of growth. And here again, the hanging leaves are giving it a little bit of protection from the cold and frost.
Even just leaving a layer of leaves in a container like this is beneficial:
This is a container of Salvia that comes back every year. I know it reseeds itself, but I have taken the leaves out of the pot in previous years and the plant didn't come back as well. I am convinced the leaves either fed or protected the seeds. Either way, the leaves stay until I see new growth.
Is there ANYTHING I can do in the yard right now? WAIT, I do have something.
Dormant oil.
Dormant oil kills garden pests on woody plants like trees and shrubs just when damaging insects are waking up from their Winter's nap. These are highly refined oils (Not motor oils!) which spread uniformly on the bark of trees and shrubs to which it is applied and coat non-mobile, dormant insects on the tree smothering them to death. Gardeners usually use dormant oil on trees and shrubs in the Winter because there is no growth. The use of a dormant oil mixture will not only kill, but annihilate, annual flowers such as Pansies, Bluebonnets, Snapdragons or any other annual you may have growing under or near plants to be treated. To insure their well being, completely cover such tender vegetation BEFORE spraying nearby trees and shrubs with the dormant oil. Fruit trees and shrubs especially benefit from an annual dormant oil application because of their susceptibility to pests. Here is a good candidate for a Dormant Oil treatment:
Blueberry bushes.
Just make sure you follow any and all directions on the package, not only is it the law, it could spare your plants life.
So, let's review. If your yard is a leaf litter disaster, wait, to clean it up.
If the plant is all tall and dead looking, wait, to cut it down.
The trees look like they need a haircut, wait, to prune them.
If the neighbors are complaining that your yard looks like a disaster, tell them just WAIT, until yard will look better and healthier than yours....nanny, nanny, boo,boo!
Happy Growing!


  1. This is really great stuff. Thank you. Tucson is warmer, but the same principles apply. When plants are in their resting phase, we need to wait and trim before they wake up. Because of the threat of a freeze, no pruning should be done at all until temps are above that 32 degree mark. Hope you're having a good weekend!!

  2. Waiting is hard - but..... I agree. Trampleing on muddy ground will 'squish' out the air, and this compaction can damage roots. So in my Zone 5B garden, which is under snow - again, will be viewed from the window, and a 'date to be determined' for spring clean up. Let's hang in there folks!