Happy New Year! Do you make resolutions? Do you keep them? Aim for lofty goals, be realistic, and stay on track. Here’s a suggestion: Regarding working in my garden, I resolve to 1) no longer consider it “work,” and 2) do it more consistently, more frequently, and more intentionally. If this describes your present day experience, then this is only a reminder. If this sounds new to you, here’s the deal. In our lives we need down time, repetition, exercise, fresh air, purpose, engagement with nature, and healing. “Working” in the garden will provide all this and more. The trick is to schedule quality time for performing the simplest of tasks, and in the process, do only that task, leaving all thoughts and worries about the common stresses of life behind. You will come to need and love your precious time in the garden. I guess the new term for this is mindfulness.
And here’s a practical tip to help you succeed with your New Year’s Resolution: Plan on getting dirty. Wear the appropriate clothing, your favorite work shirt, pants for crawling around on the ground, sturdy shoes, gloves and a hat. If you try to stay clean while gardening, you will not have any fun.
December 2017, windy and dry, and quite cold during the year-end holidays. Virtually no rain. We had five (count ‘em, 5) hundreths of an inch in one event for the entire month… nice for almost washing the dust off the leaves, not enough to reach the roots. The ground surface got wet (sort of), but was dry again the next day because of the wind.
Any newly planted plants will need water in two zones: 1) the area of the nursery root ball and 2) the soil zone surrounding the plant where roots will eventually thrive. Water deeply. With short days and cold temps, most plants are not growing vigorously yet and are not requiring much water. Natives are very efficient and they are able to tough it out through dry winters. The advantage of watering your garden when seasonal rain is lacking is that when (if) it eventually rains in January/February, the high quality rain water will soak into your soil better and the roots will be staged to start growing when the soil warms up. If your soil is bone dry when the first rains hit, much will run off, and what does soak in will have a lot of catching up to do. The roots would prefer to see their first cool season water in November rather than January. Since our normal November/December 2017 rains never materialized we need to water. See our “Watering Guide“.
Related to Watering
As we discussed in December, make sure your microtopography; basins, berms and swales are in place and ready to function in capturing rainfall so it will soak deeply into the ground.
All manner of garden clean-up can be performed this month. Trim all the old seed heads, and head back any rowdy sunflower, goldenbush, coyote brush, sage, and buckwheat. Do not tip prune or hedge Ceanothus, as they will be forming flower buds very soon. Manzanita never need tip pruning and they will bloom any day now. For winter pruning of leafless deciduous plants, how much to thin?… imagine a bird being able to fly through, and flit around from branch to branch… that’s how much.
In most gardens, weeds in January are not a problem if you handled the job in October and November. One exception, that pesky little golden flowered wood sorrel, Oxalis pes-caprae, †which lives dormant all year and sprouts from its little root bulbs in winter. This is a very aggressive introduction from South Africa. If you hoe it or try to pull it, you will slow it down, because you will be removing its seasonal photosynthesis factory, the leaves. To kill it you need a systemic herbicide, and control will still be spotty because those little bulbs are hard to kill. Use caution as herbicide overspray will damage adjoining garden plants. Some people will be opposed to using a chemical weed killer, but cutting or digging this plant out is nearly impossible. Any control measures should include cutting and removing the plants before they set seed. More detail here.
Use fallen leaves (from deciduous trees) as valuable mulch in garden beds. If you follow through with your resolution to spend mindful time in the garden, raking leaves will be a new found pleasure for you. The colors can be amazing. Apply water through the leaf mulch and it will start decomposing and providing nutrients, shade, and moisture retention to the soil surface..
Spring will be here soon enough.
Troubleshooting – Varmints, Pests and Diseases
Dry winters always mean hungry rabbits. If they are nearby, they will be more likely to find your watered garden now than ever. Pray for rain and keep your pellet gun handy, if that sort of varmint control would be practical where you happen to live.
With supplemental irrigation and (hopefully) soon-to-come rains, you will see germination on the wildflower seed you scattered in November. It is not too late to sow seed if you did not get around to it, so stop by for one of our custom blends.
Adding New Plants
The winter season is a great time to plant new plants in your garden. After the hustle-bustle of the holidays, what better activity than putting new plants in the ground?
What a great time to take a close look at your garden; the plants, rocks, soil, fallen leaves, germinating seedlings, insects, birds, animal tracks, patterns, shadows, colors, and the textures all around you. In winter, as opposed to the exuberance of summer, it seems that many facets of the garden are visible as if viewing in slow motion. If we adapt the seasonal pace our garden keeps, we will not miss a thing. Absorb.
From the Garden, and Happy New Year!
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Featured Photo Credit: Photo: Mike Evans, Tree of Life Nursery ©2017