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January Gardener: Winter Garden Chores

Master Gardener Shirley M. Tyner uses the winter months to prune plants and clean landscaping areas in order to prepare for spring planting. (Staff photo: Laura Williams)

Master Gardener Shirley M. Tyner uses the winter months to prune plants and clean landscaping areas in order to prepare for spring planting. (Staff photo: Laura Williams)

This is the time for winter garden chores. There are a number of important tasks that should be done now to prepare your gardens and lawns for the coming spring.

Check the condition of your pruning equipment. Inspect and sharpen any dull blades. It is best to use a small file or sharpening stone.

Begin now to prune shrubs and trees to shape them and remove dead wood. Remember to delay pruning of spring-flowering plants, such as azaleas, until after they have finished blooming in the spring – unless they need some major overhaul pruning. Severe pruning is best done in February before new growth begins. Fruit trees should be pruned in late winter. Apples and pears are pruned to an upright growth habit and central leader. Peaches are pruned to an open bowl shape.

Now is the time to do some general maintenance around the flower beds. Remove any existing dead foliage from the beds to reduce disease later in the year. Be sure to mark the spots where dormant perennial plants and bulbs are growing so you don’t overplant in this same area.

Remove old soggy mulch if it has become matted and add a few inches of fresh pine straw or pine bark.

Look over the lawn for emerged winter annuals and apply the correct post emergent herbicide if needed. Controlling weeds such as clover, chickweed and henbit before they produce seeds will reduce the weed populations in the future. Be sure to select a product labeled for the type turf grass you have. Do not use pre-emergence controls if you are planning to re-plant or reseed your lawn soon with fescue.

Start seeds of your favorite spring garden vegetables inside now so that they are ready to plant when soil temperatures are warmer. Use a good, sterile, growing medium to start tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc. Keep seed trays where they will receive plenty of light and be sure the seeds are moist but not overly wet.

If you have chrysanthemum plants that survive the winter, you don’t have to buy mums in the fall. It is easy to go out in late winter and find clumps with fresh growth tight inside the old dead stems. Lift these, separate and replant – perhaps putting the plants in pots, where they can grow all year in a secluded nursery and be moved into place in autumn.

Recycle those old mini blinds in the garden. Cut slats into 6-8” pieces with wire snips and use a permanent marker to record seed varieties and planting dates.

Winter is a great time to get out in the landscape. Doing a few chores now will have your landscapes looking better this spring.

Sources: Robert Westerfield, College of Agricultural and Environmental Science, Extension Horticulturist and Willie Chance, UGA College of Agricultural and Environments Sciences Extension Agent, Houston County. Uga.edu/urbanag/2013/10/winterizing-trees-dormant-season-preparations;ugaurbanag.com/content/winter-chores-landscape;ugaurbanag.com/content/last-call-winter-jobs.

Shirley M Tyner is a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer and a member of SOWEGA Master Gardeners. For more information, contact Dougherty CEC James Morgan at (229) 436-7216 or morganjl@uga.edu.