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Putting Your Garden Beds to Bed for Winter

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Prepping your garden beds for winter will make it easier to get a jump start on planting in the spring because working in a soggy, spring bed is a difficult task! It’s far smarter to do that work in the fall when the beds are dry and the weather is nice.

So, if you’re wondering how to tuck your garden beds in for a long winter nap and have them wake up refreshed, start with these five tasks:

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Two-for-One Plants: Amaranth

Amaranth flowers bloom in hot summer day

By Amy Renea
See full article in the September issue of Naturally

Amaranth is an under-appreciated native grain with a host of beneficial uses. It grows easily in most of the United States and can be found growing wild in many U.S. states. Typically, wild amaranth is ‘pigweed,’ but you might also find various cultivars popping up in your garden that have seeded from a neighbor’s garden. My initial exposure to amaranth was in our first house where a tiny seed of ‘Hopi Red Dye’ had managed to settle in the cracks of an aging sidewalk. I didn’t know what it was, only that it had beautiful wine red leaves, so I let it go. That tiny little seed in that tiny little crack with its tiny little red leaves grew and grew and grew until it was 6 feet high. Beautiful plumes developed and seed was set for the next generation. I was hooked for life.

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fried green tomato recipe

The Perfect Fried Green Tomatoes

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At some point in your area’s growing season, those tomatoes will stop turning red and stubbornly stick to a tart green. If that happens, don’t despair! You have at least three options for those little nightshades. You can fry them, pickle them or force them to ripen with newspaper. Here’s the best recipe I’ve found for frying. For best results, serve with a side of Pimento Cheese with Peppadew.

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Flower Power Through to Fall

When visitors tour the grounds of Moss Mountain Farm, they always marvel at the annuals looking so bright-eyed and bushy tailed all the way into fall. And they start fishing for the secret to keeping those garden beds flourishing through the dog days of summer. Now that we’re in the tail end of those days, I’ll share those secrets now. Hopefully, you can employ those secrets through the rest of the season or file them away for next year.

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    Proven Winners Snow Princess® Lobularia

    Cutting back: If flower beds were a metaphor for the human life cycle, this period might be midlife where things start to “creep” or broaden and widen. You must stay vigilant and trim up those creepers that would overpower the more timid plants. Plants like sweet potato vine, which can be thuggish and push over smaller flowers. It’s also helpful to cut back the spent blooms, and I pay special attention to plants like my Snow Princess® Lobularia or the Angelonia.

 

  1. Feedings: You should continue feedings, even though it’s hot. I usually give a dose of liquid fertilizer every third watering.

 

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    Flirtation® Orange Diascia

    Filling in: I will typically pull out plants that haven’t fared well and plug in new things for fall. Sometimes the animals help with that task. For example, I had some petunias rooted out by armadillos. So, I’ll either plant more petunias or prepare for fall by substituting plants that like colder temperatures like nemesia, diascia or argyranthemum.

 

Read more:

Five Easiest Annuals to Grow

Cool Season Annuals

Annuals versus Perennials

Winter Pruning

The first thing that everyone should know about pruning is that much like a bad haircut a botched pruning job will grow out eventually.  It’s unlikely that a person will kill a plant with poor pruning.  It may look really bad for a while, but it won’t die.

The chances of getting the job done right are improved if you use good, sharp tools, make a clean cut and consider the growth habit of the plant. And you can’t go wrong by just removing dead wood, crisscrossing branches and by limiting the removal to 1/3 of the plant’s size.

Why Prune?

The most obvious reasons to prune are to reduce the size of a plant, maintain a plant’s shape or improve its appearance.  Pruning to remove dead and diseased wood or thin out the center branches will also help keep a plant healthy.  For instances, shrub roses or hydrangeas that have grown too dense benefit from the removal of interior branches to open up air circulation; good air circulation helps keep diseases in check.

Why Prune in Late Winter

P. Allen Smith Shearing an Evergreen HedgePruning in late winter when many shrubs and trees are dormant invigorates the plants for abundant growth in spring; the wounds are exposed for a limited amount of time before the growing cycle begins; and finally, it’s just easier to see what needs to be pruned after the leaves have dropped.

When is Late Winter?

In my mid-South (zone 7) garden late winter is February.  The garden is still dormant but the spring thaw will begin within a month to 6 weeks.  The job should be handled before new spring growth begins, but after the threat of severe cold has passed.

What to Prune in Late Winter

Here is a short list of plants that appreciate a good trim in late winter.

Summer Flowering Trees – Ornamental trees that bloom in summer such as Crape Myrtles, Vitex, Smoke Tree, Rose of Sharon.

Hydrangea paniculata and H. arborescens – Unlike their cousin H. macrophylla, these two hydrangeas bloom on new wood so cut them back hard to promote growth and flowers.  H. paniculata can be cut back to two buds above the base of the flower stem. Prune H. arborescens back to varying heights of 1 to 3 feet from the ground.

Fruit Trees – Fruit trees flower on growth from the previous season, but pruning should be done when the tree is dormant, so there will be some flower and fruit loss.  The good news is that pruning promotes vigorous growth and larger, better tasting fruits.  Each type of fruit tree has some special requirements so do some research before you begin cutting.

Roses – Hybrid tea, old-fashioned and climbing roses should be pruned right before the leaf buds break or if you live in a northern region, pruning should be done when you remove winter protection.

What NOT to Prune in Late Winter

Not all plants should be cut back in winter.  This is a list of plants that prefer to have their haircuts in late spring or summer.

Spring Flowering Shrubs – Forsythia, quince, azaleas, Bridal wreath spirea and other shrubs that bloom in spring should be pruned immediately after they flower.

Spring Flowering Trees – Lilacs, ornamental fruit trees and

Hydrangea macrophylla – Old-fashioned, pompon hydrangeas set bloom buds on the previous year’s growth.  It’s safe to remove faded flowers and dead branches.

Once Blooming Roses – Old-fashioned roses that only flower once each growing season, such as Damasks and Mosses bloom on old wood and should be pruned in the summer after they have flowered.

Gardenias – These should be pruned immediately after they bloom.

Bleeding Trees – Maples, birches, dogwoods, walnuts and elms produce copious amounts of sap when they are pruned in late winter.  Pruning won’t hurt the trees, but it will be less messy if you wait until summer.

Essential Tools

Pruning Stem SizesGoing back to the hair cut analogy, it is safe to assume that most of us wouldn’t want to have our hair cut with a pair of rusty pinking shears.  The same is true of pruning.  The best results come from using sharp, clean tools that are suited for the task.  Here is a list of pruning essentials.

Sharp pocket knife is great for making small cuts as needed.

Hedge shears are designed to cut small twigs or shrubs, but not anything much larger than the size of a pencil.  They are a must for broadleaf evergreens such as boxwoods, hollies and yews.

By-pass pruners are suited good for cuts about the size a pencil and can be used for perennials and shrubs with thin stems like roses or azaleas.

Loppers are a tool for making big bites when you need to get some leverage.  They are best for using on dead wood because they tend to crush rather than cut.  This crushing action can damage living cells in a branch, which could cause a longer healing time for the tree or shrub.

Saws are also ideal for large branches and can be used for cutting living wood.  The more teeth on the saw the finer the cut and the easier the healing process will be on the plant.

Pole saws and pole pruners are handy for reaching into large shrubs or for working overhead.

Good to Know:  When to Call in a Professional.

If you can’t reach a limb from the ground with a pole pruner, it’s time to call a pro.  This also applies if the limbs are heavier than you can manage or if the tree is near power lines.

Frost Damaged Trees

We recently suffered a severe hard freeze after our trees had already leafed out! Will the trees recover on their own, or is there something I can do to help? The leaves are brown and shriveled on all my small ornamental trees and most all shrubs. Please HELP!!!

The first few spring-like days of the year always get me excited. I eagerly anticipate the first blooms of the season
peeking out to brighten the drab winter landscape. But as I gear up for the coming gardening season, I have learned to keep a watchful eye on the weather. In order to clean out the old and bring in the new season, the weather can make some dramatic changes in a very short period of time and so it is a good idea to be prepared.

If your garden is subjected to some unseasonably warm temperatures that have caused some early blooming or leafing
out of your landscape plants and then freezing weather is predicted, you need to jump into action. It’s time to break out the frost blankets, add a couple inches of mulch, move container plants to a garage or enclosed area and make sure everything that needs water is well hydrated several hours before freezing temperatures occur.

Even with all these precautions, there will be times when the frost will still damage the plants.

If you see shriveling, browning or blackening in the leaves or stems of your plants, that is a sign of damage from freezing. There is very little that you can do now except wait as recovery has more to do with the plant and how it
handles the extent of the damage. Healthy trees and shrubs should produce additional growth within a few weeks. For
perennials, as long as roots and crown were not harmed, they will also show signs of new growth in a few weeks. You can check for pliable branches, but wait at least 1 or 2 months after the plant should have come out of dormancy before making a determination whether the roots are dead and you remove it. Pruning will not revive a damaged plant.

The plant will repair itself so wait until new growth appears, and that will guide you where to prune. At that time trim away dead and damaged branches, and to enhance the natural look of the plant.

Spring Cold Snaps

It never fails, every spring the same story unfolds. Just when warm spring weather seems to be the norm, a sudden cold snap will hit wiping out all the early blooms. But we don’t have to play the victim to this recurring tale; there are ways to protect the plants in the garden from untimely visits from Jack Frost.

To protect blossoms on shrubs like azaleas that are in full bloom spray them with a light mist of water, and then cover them with plastic sheeting. In effect you are creating a little greenhouse without any ventilation. Just make sure you remove the plastic before the sun heats things up in the morning.

Cool weather crops like lettuce, onions, broccoli, cauliflower and English peas, shouldn’t be bothered by a light frost, but need protection if extreme or extended periods of cold are in the forecast. You can cover them with plastic milk cartons or, if you remember how to make them, those funny little newspaper hats you created as a child are great for protecting young plants. Just place one over the plant the night before, and pull some earth up around the corners to help anchor it. Again, it is important to remove any covering from the plant before the day gets warm.

Now, one last thing. Never let your young transplants go through a cold night dehydrated. Make sure they are well watered before the sun goes down.

With these tips you don’t have to let an untimely frosts ruin your garden. Just give your tender plants a little extra, temporary protection.

Frost Blankets

Protecting the plants in our gardens against an early frost is an autumn ritual we’re all familiar with. Draping the garden with old sheets, plastic and even newspaper for a little protection is the common defense. But there is a product available that makes sheltering our plants from chilly temperatures much easier.

Fabrics often referred to as garden blankets, or quilts, have been designed to help keep vulnerable plants snug in the garden.

Now there are some advantages to using garden blankets over plastic in a fall garden. Plastic can damage plants on warm, sunny days. The heat builds up under the plastic and if it touches the leaves they can be scorched. Unlike plastic sheeting you can leave garden blankets on plants without harming them. The lightweight material allows air, water and sunlight through, all of which are vital for plant growth.

Frost BlanketGarden blankets come in various weights. One of the heaviest can provide frost protection down to 24 degrees F.

Not only can they help when frost threatens, but they will also allow your young plants a chance to get off to a good start by protecting them from insects, rabbits, birds, and other wildlife who can make your garden one of their favorite places to snack.

By covering your plants with garden blankets in the fall, you can help to extend the gardening season and since they are so durable, with a little care, you can use them year after year.