MIMI AND I ALWAYS have one more trick up our sleeves around this time of year. Before the big, spring rush begins. We like to let Mardi Gras be our annual last hurrah to the thinking stage of spring preparations at Garden Works and at home. These past months we were making our annual plans to go to Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras with my brother and his wife since they live in New Orleans and know how to get around. We spent New Year’s Weekend in New Orleans. We took it easy during the days and found great music to dance the new year in.
The night before New Year’s Eve we saw a band from New Orleans that we love, The Revivalists. Every New Year’s Eve we try to make it to Tipitinas for a band that grew up in New Orleans, Galactic. They now own Tipitinas and put on a big, funky show guaranteed to make you shake everything out. We usually run into someone we know, this year was no different. Some co-workers were there having a blast spending their first visit to New Orleans. I love to show someone around who’s never been before. One of them who had never seen the debauchery before wanted to know where the cops and the security was, or as he put it while laughing, “who’s in charge around here!?” I’ve often wondered the same thing. I told him that you are kind of on your own to stay safe. We all made it home alive and smiling.
I just got off the phone with my brother saying they were, for the first time ever, going to skip Mardi Gras this year. I thought the world was coming to an end. I don’t think we will go if they don’t. It’s fun getting in costume and lollygagging around town with them all day. Plus he’s my security and navigator down there, can’t do it without him.
We just got back from market with big plans. The bushes and trees have been booked, truckloads of pottery are on their way and our seeds and seedlings for the entire spring and summer grow were planned out. By this time last year we had a pretty mild January behind us. I was hoping it had gotten the rain out of its system this year. This year it seems very soggy, but we’ve only had about five and a half inches this January but for the winter season we’ve received 11 and a half inches of rain and a killing cold blast.
This past year caused a lot of people to pay closer attention to their yards since we’ve been home way more than usual. The regular things that happened in our yard during February are still happening it’s just that more people are preparing for spring with their newly found love of the gardening hobby.
THIS WEEK GROUNDHOG Day has come and gone. Groundhog Day derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on February 2 sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks; but if it doesn’t see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early. Last February on a cloudy day he saw no shadow and we did have an early spring. It is a fun game and one that is full of hope. Unfortunately Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions are only about 35% accurate since 1887 when the 134-year-old groundhog begin this tradition.
No matter what this year‘s prediction is the same things need to be happening in our yard to prepare for another spring. It’s a good time to take notice of some things going on in your yard. I like to note where low spots are holding water too long. Sometimes neighbors might be diverting more than your fair share of rain water away from their rooftops and yards towards your yard. If they had gut- ters and downspouts correctly aimed towards the street or towards a ditch your problems would be less. If bringing that up to your neighbor isn’t an option you’ll have to figure out how to negotiate the water into a catch basin connected to a pipe that takes the water where it belongs.
If you get quotes from a drainage guy remember that the huge range in quotes comes most likely from the materials used. Make sure the drainage pipe is PVC pipe and not the black, flexible pipe with holes in it. When we are asked to repair a faulty drainage system we always find that black pipe is the culprit. Mississippi clay will eventually collapse the pipe causing water to hurry up and wait in a big puddle in your yard. You’ll save a lot of money on the front end but it won’t last and you won’t save money when you have to have it re-done properly.
Having a well drained yard will make such a difference in the maintenance issues that come along with a wet yard. Your lawn will have fewer weeds. The turf will generally be healthier and easier to mow if it doesn’t have to go through a winter underwater. One way to check how well your turf area is draining adequately is to dig a hole 12 inches deep by 12 inches wide, fill it with water and watch how fast the water drains. Some soils cannot hold water for 10 minutes while others don’t drain in 45 minutes. That soil will need help.
Plants will not like sitting in water and will get root rots and funguses. The beds that will get created this winter for spring planting can be built up and a gritty mix can be tilled into the clay soil to allow water to pass through more quickly. I like a combination of one scoop of grit mix, one bag of black cow, one bag of mush- room compost and one bag of Jolly Gardener potting soil. That combination seems to break up that clay soil and allows some air to pass through.
FEBRUARY IS THE MONTH that lots of pruning can happen. I have always called February 5 the dead of winter. Crêpe myrtles can be cleaned up and pruned. By taking some of the deadwood and any branches that are touching the roof or are in the way of the walkways and driveways you will also be removing some of the crêpe myrtle bark scales parking places.
Roses can be pruned back very hard this month. It’ll be a little scary but you’re going to get braver the more you prune. The roses are as dormant as they’re going to get, therefore they will not put out tender growth, new growth that would be damaged in freezing
weather. Most roses bloom on new wood and tend to have reduced blooming on old canes. Let the “rule of thumb“ be your guide; new growth about the diameter of your thumb make the best canes. If the branch is bigger than your ordinary loppers can handle (1 1/2 inches or larger) it should be removed. You can prune the entire rosebush down by 1/3 after you cut out the dead and damaged wood or can even be cut in half if you want to reduce its size for spring bloom time.
This is the time to deadhead your snapdragons in order to have a mind blowing spring bloom show. If you leave the seeds on the mother plant they will pour all their energy into seed production leaving very few blooms in the spring. That goes for dianthus and all of your winter bedding plants. With a little maintenance on your winter bloomers they should last well into April or May if you want them to. I do this just to stop myself from jumping the gun and planting spring plants too early into the cold ground or risking a late frost. We had some upper 30s in April in the past years. I’d rather not have tender spring annuals in the ground during those temperatures. If my winter annuals are still looking good I won’t pull them out.
When it’s not too wet in your yard to walk around grab a notebook and begin taking notes about the things you see that need to be changed. Start shopping around for the materials it will take to make the changes. You’ll have to work between rain so it may take you a month of Sundays to get anything done but you will be ready when spring gets here. When our nights are consecutively in the 60s and you’ve mowed grass a time or two is when I deem that spring has sprung.
Be prepared to have your place ready in case you might need a refuge for you and your favorite people. Visit your local garden centers for inspiration, materials for projects and for advice on how to handle issues you want to deal with. The forward momentum will help to bring you out of hibernation and make you feel better about things. Anything to get yourself away from the television and the computer will help you to realize that reality is really right out- side your back door. Don’t get caught with your plants down.