Timing is Everything

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The standard weather forecast in the deep south goes like this: rain followed by cold, then a warm up followed by rain and the cycle starts again. Gardening on this roller coaster is a sometimes maddening matter of timing. When you have time to cut back the ornamental grasses, it rains for days. You know the crepe myrtle needs at least to have its seed pods nipped off, but the daytime temperature doesn’t pass 35 degrees on your day off. At least twice in a good January, temperatures hover in warmer ranges so you drop everything else in favor of clippers and shears. There’s pruning to do in winter, and I’m glad to report that the long list of plants to be clipped now is getting shorter. I pruned the front garden and much around the house on schedule, but I’m not crowing – yet. Here’s what’s done and not done:

·         Ornamental grasses. Take down the plumes and shape the crown into a dome so it can shed water. Trim the ragged monkey grasses, avoiding the green tips already peeking out at ground level. Two maiden grasses (Miscanthus) are yet to get it, and one large circle of liriope remains to be trimmed.

·         Woody perennials. Chaste tree (Vitex), confederate rose (Hibiscus), and some butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) pose a dilemma. They are not easily burned by frost and new growth starts early in the spring. We miss the pruning window and by summer, the plants are a thickety mess. I cut them down, except for the miniatures from Proven Winners. The ‘Blue Chip’ group is quite nearly care free, and will keep blooming even if you don’t deadhead it.

·         Dormant perennials. Once they’re brown, it’s down they go and the debris is off to the compost heap. Cannas, done. Lantanas, gone. Cashmere bouquet, down. Sedum, chopped. Mums, done. Yet to be cut: perennial sunflower, phlox, and some lilies.

·         Fruit trees and vines. Only needed to prune the figs and they’re done!  I see that my neighbor hasn’t gotten to his plum trees yet, and I sure hope he does – that’s the best jelly on the block! I haven’t tackled the wisteria yet, and time’s a’wastin’. For this vine and muscadine grapes, too: cut runaway vines back to cover the trellis or arbor, then go along the big canes to find shoots coming off them in a T. Trim the T, leaving 2 inches of vine to bloom and fruit.

Lots more to do now that it’s February, mostly evergreens and all those roses. Stick with me for more as the weeks go by.


Vegetable tip of the week: Winter brings out the best in collard greens, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Don’t be afraid to keep picking those greens, as their taste only gets better. This week’s bunch will soon be followed by a hearty burst of new leaves, ready for the steamer when they’re about 6 inches long. You’ll get them much bigger at the market, but they won’t taste as good. Pick cabbage when they reach 5-6 inches across, and let the b sprouts get no larger than 2 inches in diameter before you enjoy them.

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