12/25/15: In the garden this week


Lilacs budding and feebly blooming in late December. See the picture of the bottom of the post for a more normal winter display.

It’s official–this winter can only be described as freakish. The front page of today’s New York Times features an article about all the plants blooming out of season at the NY Botanical Garden. The experts there (my alma mater) agree with my assessment that the warm winter isn’t likely to harm the plants, but it is likely to diminish the coming spring’s floral display.

The warm weather does extend the gardening season. Here are some things you might do in the garden this week:

— As long as the ground remains unfrozen, you can get a jump start on spring by keeping up with your weeding. In my garden, dandelions and wild garlic are still growing lustily–they like the cool temperatures–and I’m seeing lots of little western bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) in wet areas. This is a winter annual, which means it will bloom and set seed very early in spring, so it’s a good idea to pull it now. The soil is nice and damp, perfect for weeding.

— It’s not too late to plant hardwood trees and large shrubs. You can plant most hardy trees until the ground freezes. Be sure to mulch well and water thoroughly: give at least 1 inch of water per week during dry spells until the ground freezes, and then again as soon as it thaws in spring.

— This is a good time to extend a garden bed or start a new one, and it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn: spread a 3-4″ layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. Next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn during the summer and have been scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

Water new plantings: newly installed plants still need watering during dry spells. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain (not this week), continue to water all perennials and woody plants installed this season. How do you know when you’ve provided an inch of water? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well.

Clean up the vegetable garden carefully. Discard (do not compost) infested or diseased plants. This year’s diseased plants, left in the garden, are the source of next year’s infections.

— Tend the fall vegetable garden: if you seeded second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach, you’re most likely still harvesting. The growth of the fall crop of arugula has resumed with the warmer temperatures this week.

Plan next season’s garden. Catalogs have begun to arrive! As you leaf through them, make notes, and then go outside and imagine how the plants will look. With the ground bare of snow, you can walk your property and make notes about what you see. Do you want to move a shrub or add a perennial border or start a vegetable garden? The best thing about gardening is that there’s always next year.

Try to take time in the midst of holiday hubbub to get out and enjoy the garden. You might see some lovely winter berries like these:


Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) holds its berries for much of the winter, but the birds will finally eat them all.



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