When does winter begin? When the temperature drops below 60 degrees? Maybe when you can put away the lawnmower because you have stopped cutting the lawn? Perhaps you might say Dec. 21, the day that marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. However, from then on, the daylight hours will increase and night-time darkness will decrease.
Get ready to get dirty
Is winter just a time to kick back, look at gardening catalogs and home improvement magazines, dream of or plan new landscaping designs or wonder what to plant in your flower and vegetable gardens? All of those ideas are good, but in South Texas, nature doesn’t always give us that much of an actual break from our gardens, lawns and landscapes.
To gardeners, that day suggests that spring is just around the corner. Get ready to get dirty.
Suggestions for January through February
To help you get motivated, I have taken tips from Dr. Doug Welch’s Texas Garden Almanac to inspire your green thumbs to get busy.
In it are many helpful and knowledgeable gardening ideas for each month of the year, touching on such topics as soil, lawns, trees, plants and plant care, to name just a few. I will concentrate on a few of his suggestions from the months of January and February.
- Gardening tools
If you were lucky enough to receive Christmas gifts of pruning equipment this year, then you are set to begin. Those of us who hold onto tools over the years will do well to inspect them, clean up and sharpen those that still have life in them and dispose of the ones who have given their all.
- Small engine equipment
Check lawn mower and trimmer engines to see if a tune-up is needed. If so, take them to a small engine repair shop ASAP to avoid long wait times in the spring.
- Irrigation system
If you have a sprinkler or irrigation system, check out the system for any leaking or broken sprinkler heads. Fix any problems before your watering needs aren’t being met effectively and efficiently.
- Fertilizer application equipment
Fertilizers should be applied with properly maintained equipment, whether using a walk behind or hand whirligig spreader. Check it.
- Garden gloves
Don’t forget to get yourself some new gardening gloves – several different pairs to match the different types of tasks ahead.
Transplant shrubs and trees during the dormant season to significantly increase survival chances.
- Major pruning, training and shaping of shade trees, crape myrtles and other large shrubs are best done in February.
- Spring bloomers should be pruned late spring after blooming.
- Only make a pruning cut that is necessary.
Best time to prune
The best time to prune is in winter just before spring growth begins. Have a pruning plan from general to specific.
- Start with removal of major dead, broken or diseased tree limbs.
- Remove branches with atypical growing patterns.
- Trim suckers and/or water sprouts on limbs and tree trunks.
- Prune to maintain for natural shaping of the tree/shrub.
- Refer to steps on trimming tree branches in printed information adjacent to this article.
- Consider a professional tree trimming company/arborist for large projects.
Pruning perennial flowers
- Refrain from pruning off freeze-damaged plant material until signs of spring growth appears, usually after the last late spring freeze. In the Victoria area that is, on average, in mid-February. Those dead ends actually provide some insulation for the healthy plant tissue.
- Cold-hardiness of perennial flowers may dictate the level of pruning needed. Most perennials have shoots and branches frozen back to some degree on the plant. Best to let the plant tell you when and where to prune.
- Some perennials, like esperanza and indigo spires salvia, should be cut within 6 inches of the ground every year or two to recreate a whole new vigorous plant.
- February is the time to prune established rose bushes.
- Tradition has it to prune roses on or by Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
- If your goal is to have roses blooming year-round, for both cut flowers and landscape flowers, it would be wise to plant a combination of modern hybrid roses, old-fashioned roses and new, old-style roses.
- Refer to suggested rose varieties in printed information adjacent to this article.
- Roses can be planted almost year-round, so consider giving yourself or someone special a rose bush for Valentine’s Day this year. It could be the gift that keeps giving for many years.
Winter does not actually end until the first day of spring in mid-March. In South Texas, watch for signs of early spring arrival to really get busy and dirty in the garden.