Great news! Grumpy saw his shadow this morning. Unfortunately, he was in the bathroom. Upon venturing outside, he did not see his shadow. What does this mean? Either spring is just around the corner or it is nowhere close. Glad I could clear that up for you.
Fear not, however, for no matter if you live in the land of ice and snow or father south where only folks in flip-flops go, there are garden chores waiting to be done right now, before you have yourself surgically implanted in your recliner for the Super Bowl. Here is this week’s to-do list.
In the Bitterly Cold North
1. Look up real estate listings in the South. Lots of homes are for sale in Grumpy’s neighborhood. Only if you move in, you can no longer refer to soft-drinks as “pop.” The correct term is “coke,” even if you’re not drinking Coke.
2. Brush heavy snow off of evergreens, such as boxwoods, yews, junipers, rhododendrons, Hinoki cypress, and arbor vitae to keep them from breaking or splitting. Once snow pushes an arbor vitae, cypress, or upright juniper into a diagonal position, it’ll never stand straight again no matter how often you scold it.
3. Be thankful for snow cover when the mercury drops below zero. Snow is a great insulator, especially for spring-flowering plants and broadleaf evergreens. For example, when forsythia blooms in spring, you can always tell how high the snow was. Above the snow, no blooms — flower buds killed by the frigid air. Below the snow line, blooms.
4. Use as little salt as possible to thaw ice on steps and walks. Salts corrodes just about every surface, poisons plants, and damages the soil. It also raises your blood pressure if ingested, so reserve it solely for coating the rims of Margarita glasses and curing squirrel.
5. Resist the urge to prune back trees and shrubs with brown leaves and branches. You won’t know how much is really dead until the spring thaw.
6. Surf the internet for photos of flowers, so you can’t remember what they look like.
7. Carve a hole in the ice next to a chair, drop a fishing line into the hole, sit down, forget about the missus, and drink beer all day. (We like to do the same thing down south, only without ice. Hey, all guys are brothers.)
In the Wonderfully Temperate South
1. Neaten up your Zoysia, Bermuda, Centipede, or St. Augustine lawn now by mowing the brown grass down to an inch or so with a mulching mower. Leave the clippings on the lawn or bag them and spread them on planting beds as a winter mulch.
2. Prune back summer-flowering trees and shrubs, such as shrub roses, ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea, rose-of-Sharon, chaste tree, butterfly bush, angel’s trumpet, pomegranate, and cape plumbago. Don’t touch anything that blooms in spring unless you’re a dolt who hates flowers.
3. Do not, under pain of death, commit crepe murder. Reducing a lovely tree to ugly stumps just because you’re bored and your wife yelled at you only makes you look like the idiot she think you are. Click here to see what a properly pruned crepe myrtle should look like.
4. If you need to lime your lawn or garden, now is as good a time. You can pretend it’s snow, but no fair throwing limeballs at people!
5. Rake fallen leaves off of ground covers, bulbs beds, perennials with evergreen foliage, and moss. These plants like the winter sun.
6. Go ahead and plant dormant trees and shrubs now. This gives the root system additional time to expand before the weather gets warm. Water thoroughly and mulch.
7. If you’re the kind of person everyone else in the neighborhood resents because you start your own vegetable and flowers from seed indoors, the time is drawing near. Start them about 6 weeks before your last frost. (For folks in Minnesota, relax and go back to ice fishing. To find out when you should plant tomatoes, refer to the gardening pages of the Moscow News & Observer.)