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Talkin' Dirt - February 2017

by Donna Bogumill

Thanks to Mary Beth Riggs for providing us with great gardening tips for the past year. She has retired as author of the Talkin' Dirt feature. I've decided to keep this feature going by writing this month's issue, but I need your help. Please let me know if you have suggestions for future topics or gardening tips to pass along to fellow OGC members. -- Donna Bogumill 

Winter blues got you down? Nothing like a little gardening therapy to cure what ails you. We’re fortunate to live in a part of the country where it’s possible to garden year round. And when it’s too cold or wet or dark to be outside, there’s always that stack of gardening catalogs to fuel a gardener’s daydreams.

Enjoy winter-flowering plants

There are many plants that flower in February in our region – bringing color and fragrance to the garden and lifting our spirits. Some favorites include pansies, primroses, hellebores, dwarf daffodils, Daphne Odora, fragrant Sarcococca, and early flowering Viburnums. Check out the horticulture table at the February meeting to see what Olympia Garden Club members are growing in their gardens. Or drop by your favorite nursery to find some new treasures to add to your own garden.

Weed, clean, and prune

Anytime that the ground’s not frozen is a good time to weed. Even half an hour spent weeding now can save you a lot of work later on. Those sneaky little shot weeds that are popping up everywhere right now will be shooting seeds all over the place in no time at all. Get them out now, before they flower. This is also a good time to ferret out some of the perennial weeds that might be lurking in your flower beds, while they’re exposed and easy to spot. Wait until spring, and they’ll have a chance to hide under the emerging foliage of your more welcome perennials.

This is also a good time to cut back and clean up any spent foliage left from last fall. Hold off, though, on cutting back hardy fuschias, tender salvias, and other marginally hardy plants. The old foliage helps to protect these plants from the cold weather that’s still to come.

Ornamental grasses are starting to look a little ratty by now. Go ahead and cut them back before the new shoots get tall enough to be in danger of an unintended haircut.

If you haven’t already done so, cut the old foliage off your hellebores. This gives the flowers a chance to shine and reduces the spread of disease. Fresh new foliage will begin emerging soon. While you’re at it, they’ll appreciate a little lime worked into the soil around the base of each plant.

Cut the old foliage from epimediums now, before the flowers stick their heads up into harm’s way.

This is also a good time to cut the old fronds from evergreen ferns, such as our native sword ferns. It’s easier to cut the old fronds out before the new ones start emerging.

While you have your pruners out, this is a good time to do a little pruning on your fruit trees, while the leaves are off and you can see what you’re doing. You can also do selective pruning of Japanese maples and other ornamental trees and shrubs. However, avoid pruning spring-blooming shrubs and trees, as you’ll be cutting off this year’s flower buds. As a general rule, trees and shrubs that bloom before mid-June should be pruned after they’re finished blooming – if they need pruning at all. Many flowering shrubs, including hydrangeas and rhodies, only require occasional pruning to maintain their desired shape and size.

Plan, dream, and shop

Planning this year’s garden can be one of the most enjoyable activities for cold winter days. Check out that stack of garden catalogs. Are there some new veggies you want to try? Is that gorgeous new coneflower calling to you? Do you have room to squeeze in another hydrangea? Garden catalogs offer all types of temptations to the enthusiastic gardener. If there are seeds you want that may not be available at your local garden center, this is a good time to order them, before your favorites sell out.

Catalogs offer up so much tempting eye candy: gorgeous flowering shrubs, lush new perennials, beautiful grasses. It’s tempting to dash to your computer and put in an order for one of everything. Restraint has never been one of my strong suits, but I have learned to use discretion before ordering from the catalogs. Often if I wait I can find the same plants at a local nursery, and they are usually much bigger and more robust than what I would get through the mail – and probably cheaper as well. That doesn’t mean you should totally avoid ordering from catalogs or online. You may find plants that aren’t available locally, and the quality can be quite good. Just pay attention to the size listed in the catalog. It’s going to take a long time for that new hydrangea to look like the beautiful photo in the catalog if it’ll be arriving in a 4” pot.

Don’t let winter get you down. Bundle up and get out into the garden, even if it’s only for a little while. You’ll be glad you did!

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