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It’s beginning to look like spring

Garden: Don’t be fooled, winter isn’t over quite yet

Posted: February 18, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 18, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Lavender plants blossom at Green Landscape Nursery. You can plant lavender now. If severe cold comes, you might only lose the blossoms.

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Though you may think we are out of winter and, indeed, some of your plants are thinking it, too, we are not out of the woods yet, according to Richard Green, owner of Green Landscape Nursery in Saugus — who has had many years of experience with SCV weather patterns and their effects on plants.

There is still another month of winter ahead, and you should do your gardening and landscaping accordingly.

Even though we are in late winter, Green said this is still a good time for planting, pruning and preparing your soil for spring, and he reiterated many of the tips we brought your last month — with a few adjustments for this transition period.


Don’t be fooled

Unlike most years, where the SCV will have a two week span of warm, spring-like weather during the six week period between the end of January and the beginning of March,

Green said we’ve had six weeks of it this year. And while we may be enjoying the warmth, he said it is a two-edged sword.

Plants begin to react to this warmth as if it is springtime, putting out new and tender growth.

If and when freezes come, the cold could kill this new growth, and maybe your plants as well. He said it all depends on just how cold it gets.

Additionally, you don’t want to plant spring flowers now, and you shouldn’t over-fertilize existing plants during their brief wake-up in the warm weather.

This could encourage your plants to put out the new growth too early.


 Soil and water

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

“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 more than seven inches of rain here already,” he said. “Generally, they were early storms.”

He said this is a nice flush for your soil, washing out the excess salts. And there could be more before winter is over.

Late winter tips

Especially with the fresh new growth pushed up from our prolonged sunny, warmer weather, Green said you need to cover delicate plants if cold nights come.

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

February is still a good 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.


Plant dormant

Local nurseries may still have some well-priced “bare roots” in stock, including apricot, plum, apple, pear and peach trees, and a variety of rose bushes.

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

“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 high heat 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 explained 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.

But he added that it is important to get your fruit trees planted before they start flowering, for best results.

Green said we are actually a bit past the best time to plant bare roots. And with the warm weather we’ve been having, many of his fruit trees are waking up and putting out blossoms.

If you transplant a tree with blossoms, you may knock many of them off and lose that year’s potential fruit.

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 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.



Green said there is a shortage of bare root fruit trees and 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.


Veggies and flowers

Green said it’s too early to plant spring vegetables or flowers, but you could still plant some winter vegetables now, including artichokes, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, peas, potatoes, spinach and strawberries for spring and early summer harvest.

“Late winter and early spring are good times to plant most things,” Green said. “The logic is that we’re still many 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, cloudy, wet conditions, which might still occur in the SCV.

“Avoid planting such things as philodendrons, ferns, hibiscus and bougainvilleas at this time,” he said.

You can still plant pansies and violas now, and 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.


Prune dormant trees

It is still a good time to prune leafless, 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 trees stress and impede growth.

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



Green said it is still OK to add steer manure into your spring garden. Worked in deeply, and rinsed in by rain, this “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.



Green said that if air temperatures in the 70s or above become the general rule, you should switch to organic fertilizers. But, if we remain in colder weather a bit longer, as is typical, inorganic fertilizers are still a good idea. 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 a little iron helps, 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.

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.”



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 makes sense.

We’ve had rain early on, Green noted. Now we are in a dry spell, but most likely there is considerable rain ahead. He used the “March Miracle” of a few years ago as an example. That March more than a full season’s worth of rain fell in the one month.

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.

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


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