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Winter gardening and landscaping

Outdoors: Don’t let the unusually warm weather fool you

Posted: January 7, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: January 7, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Green Landscape Nursery owner Richard Green with heavenly bamboo plants in 5-gallon containers.

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Cold weather can come on suddenly, and more rain is very likely. This is still winter, and you should do your gardening and landscaping accordingly.

Winter is actually a good time for planting, pruning and preparing your soil for spring — but you need to know what’s what.

Here are some winter gardening tips provided by Richard Green, owner of Green Landscape Nursery in Saugus, who has had long-term experience with what’s what plant-wise in the Santa Clarita Valley.

 

Weather

Green said that eight out of 10 years, the SCV will have a two week span of warm, spring-like weather (such as we are having now) during the six week period between the end of January and the beginning of March.

But the general time for our coldest weather runs from before Christmas to just after the first week in February.

So both the spring weather and the very cold weather could happen in the same general time period.

Because of this, you have to be careful. Don’t plant spring plants now, and don’t over-fertilize existing plants during their brief wake-up in the warm weather. This could encourage your plants to put out new, tender growth now, Green said.

And when the freezes come, the cold will kill this new growth, and maybe your plants as well.

 

Alkalinity

Green explained that about 50 percent of the water we use in the SCV comes from well water, which has a lot of minerals in it.

"But this makes our water considerably cheaper than any of the cities south of us down the pipeline," he added.

"So the SCV has a high mineral content in the water provided, a high clay content in the soil, extremely arid conditions, along with high heat and a high alkalinity in the soil," Green said.

Add to that some very low temperatures on occasion in the winter, and you have conditions that make choosing your plants wisely and caring for them correctly extremely important.

Green said that he’s measured the precipitation over the last months at his SCV home and at his nursery. "We’ve had six and a half inches of rain here already," he said. "And they were good storms, though the last was on Dec. 12. It’s a nice flush for your soil. It takes out all the excess salts."

 

Winter tips

Cover delicate plants: Green explained that we’ve probably got some very cold nights ahead.

"If we are going to have a windless, cloudless, below-32-degree night, seek protection for your cold-sensitive plants."

That protection might include covering your plants with an N-Sulate tarp ($14.88 for 12 feet by 10 feet), which has a permeable fabric that "breathes."

Plant summer-blooming bulbs: January is the time to plant summer-blooming bulbs. Nurseries will have good assortment in stock. These bulbs include dahlia, gladiolus, narcissus, laitris, lilies, tuberous begonias and others.

"They need sunlight," Green said.

Care for living Christmas trees: Only keep living Christmas trees indoors for two weeks maximum.

Once the holidays are over, your tree should be brought outside and transplanted into the ground.

Pine trees can easily grow 50 feet or higher, so select their permanent outdoor location with care.

 

Plant while dormant

Local nurseries have an assortment of well-priced "bare root" fruit trees and roses in stock, including apricot, plum, apple, pear and peach trees and varieties of rose bushes.

Fall and winter are the ideal times to plant these dormant trees, so they bloom in spring.

"During the winter they are not water-stressed or heat-stressed," Green said.

"The winter provides a nice environment for the tree to gradually get ready for the furnace of summer," he said.

When you plant your tree, be sure to add organic compost planting mix to the soil to increase soil aeration, and a layer of mulch to keep in moisture.

Green noted that his nursery does not sell bare root plants. Instead, these young trees and shrubs come planted in pots, with their roots already well-established.

Though this might cost more initially, the benefits are a much greater likelihood of survival, and earlier fruiting.

"Our rooted fruit trees will give you fruit this year in this valley," Green said.

And he added that it is important to get your fruit trees planted before they start flowering.

The fruit trees at Green Landscape Nursery are sturdy, with those in five-gallon containers ($21.88 for most varieties) having trunk diameters of about five-eighths to three-quarters of an inch.

Those in 15-gallon containers ($69.88 for most varieties) have trunk diameters of one inch to one and a quarter inches.

 

Roses

Green explained that there have been big changes in the rose-production market. For example, "Jackson & Perkins has been completely dissolved," he said.

This means that there is a shortage of bare root and other roses available on the market.

However, with its own "growing grounds," Green Landscape Nursery will have a tremendous supply of fully-rooted, potted roses available.

These are grade-one, 3-years-old or older, and ready to produce great flowers when the weather warms up.

"All the varieties that do best in this valley we stock," Green said.

Party Lights roses in five-gallon containers are $21.80 at Green Landscape Nursery.

 

Winter veggies and flowers

Plant winter vegetables now, including artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, carrots, peas, potatoes, spinach and strawberries for spring and early summer harvest.

"Winter is a good time to plant anything," Green said. "The logic is that we’re still six full months away from the next real heat wave. Your plants have plenty of time to get established."

But he added that exceptions would be any plants that can succumb to cold.

"Avoid planting such things as philodendrons, ferns, azaleas, hibiscus, bougainvilleas, lilies and clivia at this time," he said.

You can also plant pansies and violas now.

They will bloom through July.

However, Green said you might want to replace them with spring flowers in May.

Green Landscape Nursery has flats of these flowers — 16 four-inch containers for $14.88.

Camellias have been blooming since the end of September and will continue to bloom until the end of February.

Green Landscape Nursery has camellias in five-gallon containers for $39.88.

Prune trees

January is a good time to prune dormant trees. Pruning while a tree is dormant reduces the chance of disease. Remove dead or unhealthy branches, branches at the base of the tree or other small "runners" and limbs that could cause safety issues.

And shape your tree for symmetry, if necessary. Do not prune large branches or those at the top of trees as this can cause tree stress and impede growth.

Pruned trees will produce fuller flowers and larger fruit in spring.

 

Rake leaves

Rake fallen leaves from lawns so grass can soak up winter sun and properly dry in between winter rains.

"It’s a good idea to rake leaves out of planters," Green said, as fungus and insect parasite eggs lurk there and can re-infect your plants when warm weather comes.

 

Compost and manure

Replace the leaves with a bagged, sterilized compost. "It will be much more effective (than leaf cover) and won’t carry the infections you had last year — or from your neighbor’s yard," Green said.

Steer manure: "Now is the time to add steer manure into your spring garden," Green said.

Worked in deeply, and rinsed by all the rain, it "will give unbelievable results in the spring."

But make sure the manure is sanitized. You don’t want to introduce weeds.

Two cubic foot bags of sterilized steer manure are $3.99 at Green Landscape Nursery.

 

Inorganic fertilizer

Use inorganic fertilizer now. Green explained that when the soil is cold and the organic activity in it is low, inorganic fertilizers produce the best results with your lawn.

These should be high in nitrates, and it helps if it has a little iron in it, too.

"These will give you green out of the weather right now," he said. If your lawn is "evergreen," meaning it doesn’t go dormant in the winter, and it doesn’t look green, then fertilize now.

"This is a good time to apply a winterizing fertilizer, a little higher in nitrogen, such as Marathon or Nitra King," he said.

"Do an application, following instructions, and if not satisfied in a few weeks, re-apply."

Green said planters can be fertilized with inorganic fertilizer right now, too.

"But don’t over fertilize plants, such as roses, at this time of year," he repeated. "It will stimulate too much new growth, which will be susceptible to a hard freeze."

He added that lawns are not susceptible to freezing.

 

Water wisely

Green said the rigors of the SCV’s unique climate put a lot of stress on plants, especially young ones, and this makes watering wisely important in the winter as well as summer.

Beyond that, saving water now, for use later, only makes sense.

We’ve had an abundance of rain early on, Green noted. Now we are in a dry spell, but most likely there is considerable rain ahead.

Thus, he recommends turning sprinkler timers on only when needed, because, with the variable weather, water needs can be tricky. "If we get rain, don’t water anything," Green said.

And, maybe, take this time to repair or replace your sprinkler heads, as needed, and make sure your timer is operating correctly for when you will use it.

Green Landscape Nursery is located at 26191 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus (where Cinema Drive meets Bouquet). The phone number is (661) 255-8838.

jwalker@the-signal.com

 

 

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