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Winter Garden Checklist 

A properly pruned apple tree.

Photo by Julia Graham-Whitt

A properly pruned apple tree.

The Pennsylvania rodent has decreed that we'll have another five weeks of winter and in the Midwest, South and Northeast, I'm sure they believe this to be true.

Meanwhile, out here on the North Coast, our promised rain seems to have disappeared. But that doesn't mean it's time to abandon the garden because there's a lot to do now to prepare for spring, which is a mere five weeks away, at least according to the calendar. And that groundhog.

First, believe it or not, you should consider watering your garden, whether it's potted plants, garlic in the ground, raised beds or overwintered crops. Shrubs and fruit trees would also benefit from a good soaking right about now. Normally, we don't have to worry about supplemental water in January or February, but this year they all need our help. Water deeply at least once a week until the rains return.

Another great thing to do right now is go shopping in your own garden. What plants need to be divided? Irises? Dahlias still in the ground? Many plants can be divided this time of the year, which not only helps them to thrive, but give you some "free" plants to put elsewhere in your garden or landscape.

Dig out plants that aren't doing well in their current spot. Not enough sunlight? Too much? Now is the time to dig those plants out and put them in a spot where they'll be happier. Or give them away to friends, if you don't really have the room and want to try something new.

Of course, I'm always happy support our local nurseries, which are generally ready to get rid of last year's potted plants to make way for the new ones coming in spring. You'll find some nurseries have discounts on perennials right now and, while the plants may not look so great at this time of the year, you'd be surprised how wonderful they'll look once you plant and water them. You'll enjoy watching them thrive once warmer weather arrives.

Order seeds, if you haven't done so already. I continue to receive a lot of seed catalogs in the mail and it's a thrill to imagine some of these growing in this year's garden. They always have new and interesting varieties to try out, so consider planting that packet of purple carrots because they look pretty amazing in the catalogs. Sure, it's plant porn but we can dream, can't we? If you're not interested in ordering from the seed companies, all the local nurseries (and a few natural food stores) carry a wide variety of seeds, with more coming in every day.

Prune those roses, fruit trees, cane berries (raspberries, blackberries) and blueberries right now. Especially with the lack of rain, this is a great time to get them shaped up and sprayed with dormant oil, which you can buy at local nurseries or hardware stores. If you're not sure how to prune these things, please ask someone who knows what they're doing or look it up online. There is a wealth of information on the internet about proper plant and tree pruning.

As my assistant and I work around town, I see way too many folks who think that taking a chainsaw to their fruit and ornamental flowering trees is the way to cut back for new growth. Sure, you'll get a lot of new growth in the way of a bazillion sprouts, but you won't get any fruit or flowers this year. For example, apple trees fruit on wood that's 2-5 years old, so if you cut all of that off, you're going to have to wait a couple years to get a crop. Plus, it pains those of us who do this for a living to see the various hack jobs around town. Not joking.

Buy a few summer flowering bulbs or tubers. Dahlias, gladiolus, peonies and many more are available at — yes, you guessed it — your local nursery. Costco also has their new shipment of these beauties, so pick up a bag or two to brighten up your summer cutting garden.

Clean up plant debris in the garden if you put it off last fall when it started raining. Slugs and snails are just waiting for you to plant those tender veggies. So, in addition to uncovering their hiding places, sprinkle Sluggo around to prevent an explosion of gastropods devouring your precious plants once the rain comes back.

If you have a lawn or an area that requires mowing, try to start up your mower soon. If you left gasoline in it over the winter, you'll discover it's not easy to start, if at all. The mow shops will soon be overrun with homeowners who can't get their mowers or trimmers to start, so get a jump on the neighbor and make sure your tools are in good working order.

Lastly, this might be the year to start a garden journal. As our weather changes, sometimes dramatically, I like to look back at what was blooming last year, or 10 years ago. I always think that the flowering plums are really early to bloom every January or February, but when I look back at my garden journal, they're usually right on schedule, give a week or two. It doesn't take much to jot down a few observations you've noted in your garden or around town.

Julia Graham-Whitt (she/her) is owner and operator of the landscaping business Two Green Thumbs.

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