Organic gardening has evolved a long way since it became widely used more than 50 years ago. So many more organic and natural products have been developed over the last few years that it has become a more practical choice. There is no question in my mind that avoiding exposure to chemical pesticides is a healthier choice. Whenever possible, I opt for natural organic pesticides (or no pesticides). Neem Oil, a natural extract from the Neem tree, has become my favorite pesticide because it controls such a wide range of insects and plant diseases.
Weed control is one area where chemical pesticides greatly reduce the work of physical weed removal. However, chemical herbicides can have negative consequences for growth of desirable plants. Cultivation and hand weeding are definitely healthier choices, especially with food crops such as vegetables and fruits.
There are positive reasons for choosing organic fertilizers, even though chemical fertilizers do not have the same negative exposure problems as chemical pesticides. Organic fertilizers naturally contain small quantities of micronutrients which are seldom added to chemical fertilizers. Although plants use small quantities of micro nutrients, they are essential to plant growth. Organic fertilizers and other organic amendments and mulches such as compost, bark and peat moss also improve the physical properties of soil. You will see increasing emphasis on organic gardening in this newsletter.
Dormant Pest Control
Many insects overwinter as eggs or pupae on the bark of dormant branches. Dormant Oil (a natural organic pesticide) will kill most overwintering insects including scale insects which are hard to control with other pesticides. If you have had insect problems with particular plants during the growing season, those insects may be overwintering on those same plants so they can attack again next spring or summer. Dormant Oil is also sold as Superior Spray Oil.
Winter is the best time to move plants
Do you have trees or shrubs which are crowded in their present location but you have another place to move them in your own landscape? Now is the best time to move them while they are dormant. Roots begin new growth a month or more before new leaf growth. Moving plants now gives them a chance to establish their roots before new leaf growth. Moving plants and replanting is one of my services. If plants are too large for me to move, I can recommend a landscape contractor with a tree spade.
Winter is the best time to prune many plants
From now until the end of March is the best time to prune most plants. The major exception is spring flowering shrubs which set their flower buds last fall. Any pruning before their bloom will remove some of those flower buds. It is easier and faster to prune deciduous plants when their leaves are not present. It is particularly desirable to prune fruit trees every year before they start new growth starting the first year they are planted. Let me know if you would like to have me prune your fruit trees or teach you how to prune them yourself.
Pruning is not Rocket Science
Pruning is the single most misunderstood and poorly performed garden skill by most gardeners. Even gardeners with some confidence in pruning often make serious mistakes. That is why most of my clients call me to do the pruning rather than doing their own pruning or trusting it to typical landscape gardeners who often butcher plants worse than the owners. One of my goals is to teach proper pruning principles to as many people as possible. Whenever possible, I explain to my clients why I am making the pruning cuts as I prune their plants. The best way to learn proper pruning is to practice on your own plants. I can teach almost any one how to prune in an hour or two in their own landscape. Let me know if you would like to acquire the skills to prune your own plants.
The extra cold weather we had in early December put roses into complete dormancy. They can be pruned any time between December and early March. I like to prune hybrid tea roses back to a height of 2 to 3 feet. It is best to prune just above a bud. Stubs left above buds will die and need to be pruned off later. Dead canes should be pruned down to the ground. Black or brown bark color is a good indication that a cane is dead. If you are not sure, you can scratch the bark with a knife or fingernail to see if the tissue underneath is moist and green. After shortening the large canes, I generally remove all branches which are smaller than pencil size. These small branches are not strong enough to hold up a flower. I leave small branches on floribunda and miniature roses. I usually prune these smaller plants at a height of 1 to 2 feet, depending upon their natural mature height. Standards and climbers need lighter, more selective pruning. Thin out some of the weaker growth and shape by shortening extra long branches. Plants which are taller than you want can be shortened.
Would you like to improve the appearance and usefulness of your home or business landscape? Do you have overgrown shrubs that need to be replaced? Do you have some ideas but need help putting them into an attractive design? I am not a landscape architect, but I have practical landscape design skills which I can use to help put your ideas down in a design sketch. There is no charge for a landscape consultation.