Nancy Brachey

Don’t let short afternoons keep you from getting work done

Common chickweed sprouts in late autumn and early winter to form large mats. Try to get rid of it before the flowers appear in late winter and early spring.
Common chickweed sprouts in late autumn and early winter to form large mats. Try to get rid of it before the flowers appear in late winter and early spring. File photo

I have no complaint when the weather is as nice as it has been lately, but could we do something about the day’s dimming at 5 p.m.? Well, of course not, but it does present a challenge for gardeners.

This is especially true for those trying to catch up on lost days when rain kept us indoors for weeks this fall, then made the soil soggy and unworkable.

Some of you still have bulbs to plant, and you should carry on with that now that the ground is in better shape.

And I expect all of you are still working on the leaves, either taking them to a compost bin or putting them into bags for collection. This is the price for living in a region so filled with beautiful trees, the defining element of our public and private landscapes.

Beyond those two productive tasks are some more tedious ones that will benefit the garden next year.

Many Knock Out roses, which perform like Thoroughbred race horses, are still in bloom, and it is wise to cut them back by a third or so now. By shortening the tallest canes, you reduce the possibility of breakage should foul weather – meaning a rip-roaring ice storm – hit in January or February.

And as the leaves fall, revealing the bare canopy of tall trees, look up for signs of broken or cracked limbs that could be hazardous to people and property. Get a certified arborist to deal with these problems.

Clearing leaves from flower beds and vegetable gardens may also reveal the problem of weeds.

Some are left over from the summer and have been hardy enough to survive the bit of freezing weather we’ve had already. But others sprouting now are cool-weather weeds that will be with you all winter and into spring unless you take action now. The most common is chickweed, which sprouts in late autumn and spreads into a light green mat that doesn’t look bad, but is not desirable.

The danger is in keeping it until blooms shaped like tiny daisies show up in late winter and spring and spread seeds that will bring the plant back late in 2016. They can clog up plantings of pansies, snapdragons and ornamental cabbages, even growing on top of your carefully placed mulch of leaves or pine needles.

This is an easy plant to destroy with a hoe or, when larger, by simply pulling up the mat, because the roots are so shallow. Other weeds, including dandelions, plantain and similar nuisances should be attacked with a trowel to make sure you get the roots.

This may seem like a lot to do, but afternoons are nice, and you get to stop when it gets dark at 5.

Nancy Brachey:

Ask Nancy

Q. Why are camellias blooming so early this year?

A. You are confusing the fall-flowering Camellia sasanqua with the winter-into- spring-flowering Camellia japonica. The sasanquas are right on schedule and having a great season, thanks to the mild weather so far. These wonderful camellias have an important place in Piedmont landscapes because the beautiful plants produce a wealth of flowers in white, pink or red. Some, such as Yuletide, which is red, make nice hedges. But there are many to choose from in garden centers.