As we prepare for Spring, pouring over seed catalogs and drooling over our friends’ Instagram posts from Colombia to the Mekong Delta, it is a good time to get outside and accomplish some garden tasks that will be put aside once the bulbs begin to break ground. If the prospect of tree climbing and brush hauling is deterring you, remember that Vineyard Gardens’ landscape crew is working year round and available to help. Below are a few of the garden tasks that you could be chipping away at during these mild February days.
PRUNING GRAPE VINES AND FRUIT TREES
Grapes may look a mess this time of year and it may be tempting to simply cut them back, but the process of pruning them is best demonstrated. Like riding a bike, once you’ve done it a few times it gets easier.
- Video on pruning grapes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxDNGtoVjS0
- Illustrated guide to pruning grapes http://grapegrowingguide.com/grape-pruning.html
Fruit trees are a bit trickier due to variety, special growth patterns and fruiting strategies but the basic rule of thumb is to open up the inside allowing for good air circulation and access to sunlight. Remove dead or diseased wood and a few of the older branches and crosses. Remove about 1/3rd of the older wood but preserve a balanced structure. A clever short video for inspiration. https://youtu.be/8EmlS_xhpSA
Once the pruning is complete and the weather has warmed up, spray with Dormant, aka Horticultural Oil. This is a non-toxic spray that coats the stems and bark with a mild pesticide that helps control most types of pests that can plague fruit trees and plants in the Rose family.
SHAPING AND REMOVING DEAD WOOD FROM CONIFERS AND EVERGREENS
Evergreens often outgrow their allotted space. They tend to keep their foliage on the sunny side of the plant, leaving the back sparse and leggy. They also tend to hold onto old wood that can harbor mold, mildew and fungus. Thinning out the old dense branching and accumulation of discarded foliage can lighten up the overall structure and make for a healthier plant. Some evergreens have a hard time producing new growth on old, hardened off wood. Hollies and Boxwood are a couple that appreciate being cut back hard, called “hat-racking”.
A short video to help get you started, https://youtu.be/Yag3mZLOZSg
CUTTING BACK ORNAMENTAL GRASSES
A perfect late-winter project! Ornamental grasses hold up well through most of the winter, providing volume, screening and an attractive feature in the winter landscape. Make sure to cut them back in early Spring or you’ll end up cutting off new growth. The grasses do not need to be flush cut, they can be cut at angles or domes, the object is to clear away old canes before new growth begins to emerge. A hedge trimmer or hand pruners can be used.
HEADING BACK LATE SUMMER FLOWERING SHRUBS
Martha's Vineyard homeowners tend to favor late summer flowering shrubs such as Pee Gee Hydrangeas, Bluebeard Caryopteris, St. John’s Wort, Butterfly Bush and Rose of Sharon. These shrubs perform best with a hard cut back before new growth begins to emerge. Be careful not to cut back your common blue type of Hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, because these hold their flowering buds at the tips of last years’ growth. We will be addressing Hydrangea care and pruning in a later post, stay tuned.
Wait to prune lilacs until after they have flowered.
This can be the time to cut out dead, broken and/or diseased wood from roses as well. Most roses will benefit from a hard structural pruning at this time. Be sure to keep your pruners clean and sharp. Carry with you alcohol wipes to clean the blades when moving from one plant to the next. This will help prevent spreading virus and fungal spores. Always keep the area under roses clean from debris and refresh top-dressing every year. This is where pests can deposit eggs and where fungus spores collect. These steps may not eliminate black spot, Japanese beetles or aphids but it will make it easier to keep them under control. Later you can spray with Horticultural oil, as with your fruit trees.
REPAIRING SETTLED STONEWORK
Now would be a good time to reset cobble edging and patio pavers that have settled and become uneven.
- You can get a couple buckets of sand from Keane’s or Goodale’s
- Pull up a section of pavers
- Spread out the sand. A trick when doing this is to spread the sand under the edges of the stone leaving it lower or a little hollow in the center to prevent rocking.
- Reset the stones. The stones can be left slightly higher than grade to allow for settling.
While doing this, observe where you have standing water and erosion problems. These can be corrected by digging a shallow trench towards lower grade and back-filling with pea stone. Plan ahead and fill some pockets at the joints with a sand/compost mix to allow for planting “Stepables” like Thyme or Blue Star Creeper Isotoma fluviatillis when they come available later in the Spring.
CLEANING AND SHARPENING YOUR TOOLS
Be prepared! If you don’t have the equipment to sharpen your pruners, loppers, hedge shears and pruning saw’s you can collect them together and drop them off at the Vineyard Gardens office across from Keane’s to have them sharpened for a modest fee. You should also clean and sharpen your spades and shovels, it will make your garden tasks so much easier and safer. Its good practice to keep a 5gal. bucket with sand mixed with old, used motor oil in it around to clean your tools after using them. This is also a good time to oil the wood stocks of any tools with wooden handles, it will give it a chance to soak in and renew the grain making them stronger and last longer.
CLEARING OUT GUTTERS AND LEAVES COLLECTED AROUND THE FOUNDATION OF THE HOUSE
With all the spring rains you’ll want to be sure that the gutters are running clear, even if you cleared them out after the fall leaf drop. It is best practice to check again. It also gives you a chance to make sure there was no damage during the winter from the weight of ice and snow.
It's generally good to keep debris from accumulating around the foundation of the house as well. This is where rodents and general pests will tend to nest, protected against a nice warm foundation.
Again, if all this seems daunting, do what you can and Vineyard Gardens can take care of the rest. Please call the Vineyard Gardens Landscaping office at (508) 693.8512
Time waits for no one and Spring is just around the corner. The Nursery will open around Palm Sunday, giving you a month to prepare.