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The 2010 January Seattle Winter Garden

January 21, 2010

Today, at the end of January, we’re having a week to remember. Record high daytime temperatures even, on a few days, under clear sunny skies. After wrapping up my handouts and PowerPoint presentation on Ornamedibles for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in February,Β  I got out in the garden to get caught up on a few chores. I certainly have many more to complete before Spring really arrives, but for now, here are a few things you might try to accomplish while the days are warm and dry and your plants are still dormant:

Dwarf Laceleaf Japanese Maple in Fall

Dwarf Laceleaf Japanese Maple in Fall

Pruning: Yep, now is a fantastic time to get out and prune your woody plants. Without leaves in place, it is easy to see any broken, crossing, downward-facing, or rubbing branches. In my own garden, I dropped a few crotches off my Acer triflorum to create new leaders, encouraging the plant to grow in directions away from the utility lines it is early reaching these days. As well, I trimmed out some crossing and rubbing branches on my dwarf Japanese Maple and my Heptacodium. And, I pruned out some Viburnum carlesii branches that were growing toward the house (yes, I’m giving up some lovely blooms that will shortly open, but I had the time and the access, so cut I did!).

Cut back Perennials: If you didn’t get it done in fall, now is a good time to walk through your beds and cut down the bits and pieces of perennials that have died back. On warm dry days your beds are less likely to become compacted by your footsteps. When the ground is frozen or soggy, your good clean up works may detrimentally impact your planting beds. Today in my garden I cut a couple of Miscanthus to the ground, chopped down spent lily and Phygelius stalks, and cut back the more withered semi-evergreen fern fronds.

Miscanthus in Autumn

Miscanthus in Autumn

Raking & Mulching: Honestly, I didn’t get to this today. Since I didn’t have mulch on hand, I held off on doing a full raking of all my leaves. It may be warm now, but it is still January and another freeze could happen. I did rake up some materials, but I left leaf duff in place to continue to deter weed growth while also adding nutrients to the soil, protecting soil microbia habitat, and protecting roots. When I do find the time to load up my truck with mulch, I’ll start really raking those leaves up, pulling weeds and protecting my cleaned beds with a fresh layer of composted organic mulch material.

Pull weeds: This is another work item I noted but didn’t do today. Most of my beds are fairly well protected with leaf duff or mulch, so not too many weed seedlings are showing up yet. Still, I did see quite a few rosettes of shotweed popping up here and there. Soon, if this weather keeps up, I won’t be able to continue to ignore them.

Breath deeply: Or at least pay attention to what’s in bloom. My own Witchhazel is beginning to fade just this week — the weather is a bit too warm for it. Hellebores are starting to really show their stuff. Camellia sasanqua are still popping open here and there. Sarcococca is almost too much to take each time I open the back door, but it still smells like spring is almost here. And, it may not be fully blooming yet, but I noticed a petticoat of yellow on my Azara,Β  promising chocolate fragrance is soon to be wafting through the garden.

Step carefully: Bulbs are coming up. Tender perennials are sending up shoots. The garden is coming to life. Mark your bulb locations when you find them and tread lightly so you don’t damage tender new growth.

More than anything, if you’re in Seattle, find the time to get outside right now. If you’re an office worker, take the time to walk in a park at lunch. Or heck, just ditch. Life’s too short to miss spring-time in midwinter!

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