Winter work

Did anyone else hear Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Day prediction as a rallying cry? If spring is truly right around the corner, we’d better get busy. That said, any of Phil’s kin living in my backyard would have nipped back to the burrow for a longer winter… But I’m not inclined to procrastinate winter work – just in case – and I’d always rather think spring will come sooner than later anyhow. So we’re checking our tool inventory to make sure we’re prepared to dig in, counting our incoming seed packets, and getting our plants ready too.

Although it seems too soon to say it, I think the light has begun to change. The sun is noticeably higher in the sky and even though the air temperature is wicked cold, the sun at least makes it look warmish outside. And it’s definitely warmer inside. The greenhouses are getting into the 60’s and 70’s and the plants are loving it so much that it’s time to cut them back.

Cutting our tender perennials (the salvias, stachytarpheta, heliotrope, African blue basil, cupheas, fuchsias, and plectranthus to name most of our favorites) back now to a low framework — some 12″ from the pot or less depending on the size of the plants — will give them a chance to push out fresh bushy growth well before they go in the ground in May. And I hope they’ll look less naked for our official opening days in April than they would if we waited another couple of weeks. (Meanwhile, don’t forget, the grounds and greenhouse are still actually open to the public.) There are one or two other benefits to cutting back now: when we lop off the tenderest new growth we evict the worst of the aphid and whitefly infestations without having to spray insecticidal soap or neem oil concoctions — which we resist doing when the sun’s out because the leaves can so easily burn. And any tips that aren’t infested can go straight into the cutting bench for more, more, more.

Outside, Nature has been helping with the winter pruning. The sun is suddenly shining in the bamboo grove classroom, which was opened to the sky when half of a huge Norway maple came down in last week’s blow. No doubt the grove will recover when the new shoots shoot up in May/June, though the rest of the busted tree will have to come down at some point.

Are you working hard to prepare for spring? Has Nature been “helpful” in your garden too this winter?