Nancy Brachey

Don’t waste nice winter afternoons indoors

Winter jasmine is an early-flowering shrub that can be planted now for bright color in the landscape.
Winter jasmine is an early-flowering shrub that can be planted now for bright color in the landscape. File photo

This month is turning out to be catch-up time. December, always a busy time when darkness falls early, was also very wet. This delayed both thinking about and actually doing much work outdoors. Hopefully, everyone got their bulbs planted in the ground or pots by now.

But we face the likelihood, if not the promise, of warm afternoons ahead that are prime for many important tasks that are best done during the dormant season. Some people still refer to this as the dead of winter, but I think that is a misnomer for a time that can be quite lively with blooming camellias, winter jasmine and even the earliest crocuses and daffodils starting to emerge.

Perhaps the most important thing to get done now is planting new trees and shrubs. This is important work that will pay benefits for many years. The ground is not frozen and seems to be drying out to an acceptable state – meaning not soggy – for planting.

Getting those plants in the ground now will help them adjust to their new locations before growth of stems and leaves begins. It’s helpful to give them an application of a root-stimulator fertilizer. This encourages root growth during the early weeks after planting, helping the plant to prepare for fresh foliage growth.

Perhaps you also have a shrub that would benefit from a larger or sunnier spot. This is a time to consider moving it, but it’s more work than taking a plant out of a pot and planting it. The work must be done carefully, with as much of the roots preserved as possible. Lift the plant out of the ground onto a tarp placed nearby, ready to be transported to the new place. Some roots will be lost during digging, and the root-stimulating fertilizer is a big help with the plant’s readjustment.

Planting new trees and shrubs is a pleasure. But there is another winter task that is not so much a pleasure to do, but very rewarding in the results.

That is clearing out ivy and bits of woody weeds that emerged when your back was turned. Believe me, I hate ivy and take great pleasure in removing it. That task is very difficult in the summer when days are hot and the ground is tough. But now – thank you, January – it comes up so much easier from the damp ground.

This is, of course, due to the lamented rain of December, but I forgive it since it softened up the ground so nicely. Where ivy proves resistant, a snip of the loppers is all that is needed. That will leave the roots in the ground, so you may wish to dig them up, a reasonably easy task in soft earth.

Nancy Brachey:

Ask Nancy

Q. I missed fixing patches of bare ground with grass seed and fertilizing the lawn last fall. Can I do this now?

A. Wait until mid-February to do this work of patching and fertilizing fescue grass. In the meantime, work on removing stray leaves and weeds.