Tips and Tasks  

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We know what you’re thinking; all the tips you’ve been receiving from us lately have assumed that the warm weather is here to stay. But this weekend in the North Carolina Mountains proved that inclement weather is never too far. Although the snow was beautiful, you might be concerned as to how you are going to salvage your garden. Some of your trees might have even seen some small blooms peaking through the buds, and you don’t want to neglect those plants you worked so hard to cultivate, but that’s why we’re here with our tips.

Although we have encouraged pruning pretty heavily in past posts, after a frost you should avoid pruning. Yes, the leaves look dead, and yes they are in fact unsalvageable, but pruning is not the answer. In the event of a frost, some leaves are sure to be affected and probably die, but that doesn’t mean that the entire plant is a lost cause. If you prune the dead leaves immediately after a frost, then you make the plant vulnerable again because if another frost hits, it will kill more of the live plant that is left. Avoid pruning until you are sure that you’re in the clear in terms of cold weather.

The second major way to repair your garden after a frost is to continue watering it. Moist soil is actually less likely to freeze than dry soil, so in a way you are protecting your plants in the event of another frost by keeping the soil around them moist. You should spray your plants in the morning after the frost to rid the plant leaves of any remaining ice crystals. Allowing the crystals to melt throughout the day can cause extra damage to your plant.

In the event of another oncoming frost, here are some tips to preemptively protect your garden.

It’s helpful to pay attention to the forecast. That might sound like a basic tip, but if you are trying to cultivate a healthy garden and are not paying attention to what your local meteorologists are saying, then you’ve surrendered your first line of defense against freezing temperatures.

Avoid planting tender plants in low-lying areas. When cold air rolls in, it stays close to the ground and hangs around in dips in your yard, so if you have fragile plants attempting to grow, try not to plant them in an especially low-lying area. Be aware of how windy it is. Cold air won’t necessarily affect your plants one way or another, but the intensity of the wind can cause damage by pulling leaves or buds off of your plants. If necessary, provide wind protection, like turning a wheelbarrow upside down to cover plants. You can also cover your plants with woven fabrics, which tend to be better insulators than plastics or paper to protect newly planted plants.

In order to ensure that your lawn is ready for the warm weather to roll in, you need to make sure you’ve pruned, weeded and cleaned out your garden appropriately.

Now is the time to clean out winter debris from your garden. Dead branches or fallen leaves, twigs or branches that may have fallen during winter weather will stifle the growth of plants trying to thrive.

Once the larger debris is removed from the plant bed, you should begin to hand weed. Typically people would like to use herbicide to kill the unwanted vegetation, but keep in mind that if you are planning to use herbicide, you have to wait until daytime temperatures are warm.

You should replenish or replace mulch in areas surrounding shrubs and trees. Mulch is important surrounding your trees and shrubs because it helps to keep weeds from growing, conserves water and improves soil texture.

Last, but not least, we revisit our topic of pruning. Wait to prune your spring flowering shrubs like Forsythia until after they’ve finished blooming.

Feeding your lawn in the early spring strengthens roots to get your lawn off to strong start. You don’t want to miss your chance for early fertilization; that is why we recommend for you to start thinking about what types of fertilizers fit your individual needs. An important fertilizer fact is what the numbers mean in the different types of fertilizer. Fertilizers will be described with three number separated by dashes, these numbers describe the percentage of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium in the fertilizer. We’ve come up with some tips on types of fertilizers to use and on what plants to make your gardening a little bit easier! 
  • Use a 10-10-10 or a high Nitrogen fertilizer on established trees and shrubs, except for Azaleas, Rhododendron and Camellias
  • Apply super Phosphate like 0-20-0 to Azaleas to encourage blooming early in the month
  • Use bone meal or a low strength fertilizer like 5-10-5 for Iris, Peony and Clematis
  • Add organic fertilizer and Black Kow to Rose beds and Wisteria vines
  • Begin spraying Roses with fungicide to prevent black spot. Follow label instructions
  • Fertilize cool season lawns early in month with slow release Nitrogen fertilizer
We’ve been discussing ways to pre-plan your garden and shrubbery as we head towards the spring, but let’s talk about your lawn practices. Your flowerbed layout and pruning your shrubs and trees is important, but the art of a well-cut lawn can make all the difference to your landscaping. We’ve collected a few lawn-mowing tips, so that you don't have to!
In a previous post we encouraged you check on your mower blade to ensure that it didn’t have any damage so that come warmer months, you were able to effectively use your mower. Since we are still in the middle of February, despite the warmer weather, it’s not too late to get your mower serviced if needed. The last thing that you want to deal with during the summer is a broken down mower while you watch your grass grow to unruly heights.

Keep your mower blades sharp to reduce chances for disease in your grass. The most common type of disease that your lawn can contract is fungus. If this isn’t treated it can spread to and kill your entire lawn. The length of your grass is also important. We recommend you keep your mowing height at 3” or higher, and when you mow, make sure you’re only removing 1/3 of the grass blade per cut. Mowing under these guidelines should help to avoid brown spots on your lawn.

Compaction is a problem that you want to try to avoid with your lawn care. We recommend changing your mowing patterns week to week to avoid the heavy traffic of the lawn mower in the same routine repeatedly. Additionally, you want to try to mow when the ground is dry. This can be difficult especially as we enter into summer because we all know that Western North Carolina summers can be pretty wet, but mowing the grass while the soil is still wet also leads to compaction. If compaction is something your lawn is struggling with, we suggest aerating. If your grass receives heavy traffic, it will best survive if aerated once or twice a year. A heavy clay soil also needs more frequent aerating. Lawns receiving light traffic or established on a sandy soil can be aerated once a year or every other year.

The winter is a great time for you to start planning out your spring and summer garden. You can take time to think about the fruits and vegetables you want to grow and how you will help to defend them from pesky insects and/or other creatures like deer and rabbits.

Garden Guidelines

The first thing that you can do to effectively start planning your garden is to have your soil tested by your local county extension office. This will test your soil’s pH levels, which determines ultimately how well your plants grow. Different kinds of fruits and vegetables thrive in different types of soil, so knowing what soil you are working with in your garden is helpful when choosing what to plant.

A soil test will also reveal what nutrients are missing from your soil, giving you an idea   what you kind of fertilizer you should be using. If you use your local county extension office your results might take a few weeks to process, which is why doing it in the winter   is useful, because you aren’t missing prime planting season. Alternatively, you can buy     self-soil tests at your localLowe’s if you do not want to wait.

Once you have your soil tested and know what you’re dealing with in terms of nutrients   and acidity, you can browse through seed catalogs to begin to plan your garden. You can also begin to prepare the garden by loosening the soil and adding organic matter as well as any nutrients that the soil might be lacking. We recommend you look at planting cold hardy vegetables like sugar snap peas, onion sets and winter lettuce.

If you choose more temperamental seeds to plant, you could always start the seedlings off indoors, and replant them outdoors when the weather warms. You can create a makeshift greenhouse right in your home by planting your seeds according to their package instructions and covering the containers with plastic. Make sure that you water your seeds carefully to avoid drowning your seeds or any type of fungus cause by overwatering.

Pest Control

Making sure to maintain pest control during the winter is as important as preparing for your future garden.If you’ve suffered from mealy bugs, aphids, scale or mites last year, you should apply dormant oil on your fruit trees and roses. Dormant oil is effective in killing pests even if they are already on your plant.

Just because you have a plant indoors, do not assume that it is safe from pests. Overwatering an indoor plant can lead to root rot, which attracts insects. Fungus gnats can also signify overwatering. Fungus gnats look similar to fruit flies and their small size can make them harder for the untrained eye to identify, so you should be sure to note if the gnats are appearing around your house plant.

If you find that your houseplants are suffering from insects you can use an oil spray, much like the dormant spray you use on fruit trees and roses, to suffocate the insects on the plant. You can also spray insecticidal soap on the soil and let the plant dry out completely to help kill the gnats. If possible it would be best to report the plant into fresh potting soil and sterilize the pot. And even though it sounds a little silly, remember to dust your plants!