Making Best Use of your Winter

Happy New Year, gardeners!
Join me for a moment while I sip on my “manager’s discount” egg nog and see if I can help you sharpen your gardening preparedness this year, stacking the deck in your favor for the best results long before the roses wake up.

The first step is to keep and develop your gardening journal. Date each entry and gradually log your progress throughout the year. Note what went wrong last season and set up a plan to mitigate these issues. Note what went right as well to recreate success.

Landscaping for managing water, roots, and debris
– Perform any necessary tree care including removing broken or dying branches, placing guards around saplings, covering exposed roots with top soil, or removing soil from trees planted too deep.
* Young trees should be shielded in the winter to avoid sun scald, which causes the outer bark to warm and split before the rest of the tree comes out of dormancy.
– Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees and flowering bushes to defend against scale, mites and aphids.
– Remove vines, weeds, invasive plants, thatch, grass clippings, old mulch, and leaves from trees and beds. Consider applying pre-emergent herbicide to reduce the occurrence of late winter weeds.
– Edge flower bush beds three feet out from the center of the plants using an edging spade shovel.
– Edge tree rings at the ‘drip line’, approximately where the rain runs off the outer branches.
– Use an edging spade to cut out the sod from inside of your edge and add it to your compost pile.
– Lay down cardboard (remove all staples and tape) as a weed stopper before mulching. If you don’t like cardboard, you could use newspaper instead to create a germination barrier between the mulch and soil. It will break down in the spring.
– Bark mulch or matured wood chip mulch is good for all purposes, just ensure that this material is kept 3 inches away from the crown of the tree or shrub to avoid breeding scale or mold.
– If you create your own wood chips, allow them to mature for one year before applying them to soil.
– Hardscapes & walkways can be pressure washed and treated with pre-emergent herbicide. Fix cracks in walkways, refresh the aggregate in honey-run, use a weed eater to cut sod back 2 inches away from walkways.

Vegetation Turnover
– Pick up all fallen fruit, nuts, seeds, and leaves.
– Uproot old vegetation that you wish to replace.
– Any perennials that you would like to salvage can be potted and brought indoors.
– Trim down hostas, liriope, bulb flowers, rose leaves, any perennials that will come back after frost season. Cut back perennials by one third, focusing on dead or damaged branches, allowing sunlight to reach inner branches, and finally shaping the exterior evenly.
– Anything that might have a fungal infection should not be composted. Burn any diseased material and then add the ash into your compost pile.
– Order your selected seeds and prepare sun boxes or check light bulbs in your starter incubator.
– Plan out your garden’s layout. Consider utilizing companion planting.
– If your old bulbs are burned out, dig them up and plant new flower bulbs and look up “lasagna gardening” as a way to set up the growing season for blooming success.

Composting
– Cover your older, mature compost pile with a tarp for use throughout spring.
– Collect up, leaves, thatch from yard, grass clippings, yard waste, old mulch chips.
– Break down larger vegetation and work into a new compost pile.
– Collect coffee grounds to boost nitrogen in compost pile
– Add potash, egg shells, bones, to add calcium and minerals.

Soil Composition
– Take soil samples and send to Virginia Tech
– Follow recommendations of soil test and turn over soil.
-Add appropriate amendments: lime, gypsum, pot ash, Epsom salts, pine straw, coffee grounds
– Solarize unused beds by saturating the soil with water then tucking in clear plastic into the ground. Anchor the plastic with boards, metal rods, bricks, rocks, or bury the edges into the soil. Keep the plastic as close to the soil as possible. As the daylight hours increase, the solar energy gets trapped under the plastic, heating the moisture in the soil, eventually compounding into temps up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring. This autoclaves the soil in that bed, killing off all larvae and seeds giving you clean soil prior to planting.

Hardware
– Drain hoses and if possible, use compressed air to blow out all remaining water.
– Roll up your hoses and store them where they will not get damaged.
– Identify and repair any hose damage; Flex Seal over holes, straighten or replace bent/ stripped connections.
– Repair or replace trellis, cages, cold frames, boxes (solar boxes), and raised beds.
– Clean out, organize, repair, paint tool shed, remove bird & hornet’s nests, and oil door hinges.
– Repair your fencing, stabilize any loose posts, repair or reinstall the door, repair and repaint hinges.
– Any power tools need to have their fuel drained, cleaned of any foreign matter, replace any worn out parts, superglue or epoxy cracks in the housing, and sharpen any sheers.
– Similarly with hand tools, if the handle is made of wood, sand down any splinters that might protrude. Perhaps you might need to apply a coat of polyurethane, use duct tape, or even apply a neoprene sleeve.
– Remove dirt and rust from tools with a wire brush and use sandpaper to remove any remaining rust. After the metal has been cleaned, spray it with a coat of flat black primer to extend its life.
– Blades should be sharpened and oiled.

Now you’re looking sharp and ready for spring.
Good luck,
Tom Wilson

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