GROW FRESH HERBS IN A SUNNY WINDOW
Fresh herbs can be grown from seed in a sunny window. If you plant seed now you could be harvesting by early March. Then they can be transplanted into the garden in April or May.
You can usually find herb seeds including oregano, sage, globe basil, chives, thyme, parsley and cilantro (coriander) in seed racks in stores. You will probably find the best selection in full service nurseries and garden stores. You can also get seeds within a few days from online sources such as johnnyseeds.com and territorialseed.com.
I like to grow herb plants in 4 inch pots. Fill pots to the rim with indoor potting soil. Water to moisten and settle the soil so it is about a half inch below the rim.
Scatter 6 to 10 seeds on top of the soil and press them gently into the soil. Moisten the soil again and place clear plastic over the top fastened with a rubber band. This traps moisture and humid air which improves germination. Water whenever the soil begins drying on top.
Ideal soil temperature for germination is about 70 degrees. I set my pots on a propagating mat with heating coils. Seeds will germinate at lower temperatures but it just takes a little longer. You can purchase a mat from the same place you buy seeds. Sometimes they are available with a tray with a clear plastic cover.
As soon as most of the seeds have germinated, remove the plastic and place pots in a sunny window. By having several plants in one pot, you will have a larger plant sooner. Gradually reduce watering frequency as sprouts develop several leaves. Allow the soil to get dry on top but still be moist a half inch below the surface. Feed plants with a liquid indoor plant fertilizer.
By the time sprouts have 6 to 8 leaves you can begin snipping the ends for use in cooking. Snipping the ends will encourage shoots to branch with thick growth.
Most herbs except basil and cilantro can be planted outside in early May, since they will not be damaged by light frost. Basil is tender and should be treated like tomatoes. I usually start some large leaf Italian basil about the same time as tomatoes for outside planting. The dwarfer, globe basil grows better inside.
Most flower and vegetable seeds do not need to be started inside until February or later.
MOVING AND PLANTING TREES AND SHRUBS
A common problem with almost all landscapes is to have plants installed which outgrow their space and intrude on walks, walls, or windows. January through March is the ideal time to move trees and shrubs while they are dormant. This is the best time to move shrubs which have overgrown their location, but you have another spot with more room. If shrubs are too close together, now is a good time to remove some of them, giving the remaining shrubs enough room to be attractive without shearing them into artificial shapes. Landscape contractors can move quite large trees and shrubs, using a “tree spade”. I am available to help you decide which plants are best to move or prune. There is no charge for a consultation. When shopping for new replacement plants, be sure to check the mature height and width. This is the size the plant will reach in 5 to 10 years. Ultimate sizes (after 12 or more years) can be as much as a third larger than “mature size” in the Pacific Northwest.
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.
DORMANT SEASON PRUNING
January through March is an ideal time to prune trees and shrubs except for spring-flowering shrubs. The flower buds for spring flowering shrubs were set last summer and fall and you might as well enjoy the flowers before pruning. It is easier and faster to prune deciduous plants while they do not have leaves. If you want to maintain the natural shape and thickness of shrubs, make individual pruning cuts, rather than shearing. Each time you shear a shrub, you multiply the number of branches by 3 or more. Cutting branches back to a side branch or removing them entirely to their origin keeps approximately the same branch thickness. Remember, I am not only available to prune shrubs, but to give you hands-on training to prune your own shrubs. Fruit tree pruning is one of my specialties.
January and February are the favorite months for pruning roses. Except for climbers and tree or standard roses, pruning is quite simple. Pick the height you would like plants to start at and prune all branches down to that level. My preferred height is about 2 to 3 feet. Shorter floribundas get pruned a little shorter. I do not try to make every branch on a plant the same length. Make cuts just above a leaf scar. Try to find a leaf scar facing in the direction you would like the new shoot to grow. Remove weak or broken branches back to their origin. On hybrid tea roses, I remove all branches thinner than a pencil. 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.
FRUIT TREE PRUNING
Established fruit trees require yearly pruning for best health and maximum fruit production. Regular pruning in the winter or early spring will also help keep most of the fruit bearing branches within easy reach for harvesting. For more detail see “Fruit tree pruning” under How to Guide/Pruning on my web site: naturalpruningnw.com. Information on pruning other plants is also on the web site.
ALL AMERICA AWARD WINNING FLOWERS AND VEGETABLES
A pink Salvia, 2 peppers and a watermelon have won All America awards for 2012. Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ has a dwarf sized, compact plant with a prolific bloom count throughout the growing season. The blooms appear almost two weeks earlier than the other pink salvias used as comparisons. Ornamental pepper ‘Black Olive’ has dark purple/black fruit in small clusters along the stems. In late summer the fruits mature to red giving a beautiful contrast against the dark purple foliage and bright purple flowers. Pepper ‘Cayennetta’ is an excellent tasting, mildly spicy pepper that is very easy to grow, even for novice gardeners. This chili pepper produces many 3 inch red fruits from a very well branched upright plant. It grows well in containers. Watermelon ‘Faerie’ is a non-traditional watermelon which has a creamy yellow rind with thin stripes. It has sweet pink-red flesh with a high sugar content and crisp texture. Each 7-8 inch fruit weighs four to six pounds. I have not found any web or mail order seed sources for these new varieties. They will probably be available primarily as started plants.