Are my gardenias dead? Will my rose come back? These and other questions have been asked of me because of the cold weather we’ve experienced this year. The answer is usually, "Wait and see." There is no need to give up on plants until well after the growing season has begun. Sometimes the tops are dead, but the roots are fine and will send up new shoots; it just takes time. Once new growth begins in the spring, you can prune out any limbs or stems that haven’t sprouted to clean out the dead wood. If needed, reshape the plant so it makes sense. Fertilize and water when the growing season begins to encourage new growth, too.
Older Blueberries Need Pruning
Thin old blueberry plants back to four or five main canes. Canes older than five years or so are not as productive as younger ones. Cut the cane with heavy-duty loppers or a small saw at their base. New shoots will pop through the ground in spring. Use a gentle fertilizer around blueberries in spring. Chemical fertilizers or any high in salts are not good for the very thin, hair-like roots. Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Food is very low in salts and also encourages beneficial soil flora. Although it’s labeled as an herb and vegetable product, it suits fruits like blueberries. (In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Bonnie Plants, but I love how this fertilizer works and use it on everything edible in my garden.) A few applications in spring will help blueberries with new growth.
Mow Monkey Grass or Liriope
Mow mondo and liriope to get rid of old, tattered foliage. The new leaves begin sprouting from down in the crown of the plant in late January in warmer parts of the state, so don’t delay. If you wait too late, you’ll clip the new foliage and the ends will be tattered all year. If you want them to grow into a solid ground cover, pull apart clumps and set the plantlets about six inches apart over the area you want to cover. Mulch with fine pine bark to avoid a weed problem later.
Control Pretty but Wayward Vines
Cut out rambling or tangled growth and shoots of overgrown vines reaching places where they are not welcome. It is much easier to see the vine’s structure now while many are leafless. It is okay to selectively prune overgrown wisteria, yellow jessamine, Lady Banks rose, crossvine or other spring-blooming vines, but remember you’ll also be cutting off their blooms. If you love wisteria, but are frustrated by its aggressiveness, try Amethyst Falls (Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’). This American native wisteria blooms a little later and is a little easier to keep in check than the common Chinese and Japanese species.
Interplanting is Efficient
Double your harvest from a garden space by planting low-growing edibles between broccoli plants this spring. Some of the items that fit well between and under broccoli plants are leaf lettuce, spinach and nasturtium. As the broccoli plants grow tall, clip off the lowest leaves to provide clearance for the edibles below. This is a great way to get more from a raised bed, small garden or even a container.
Oil Helps Fruit Trees
Keep aphids, mites and other pests that overwinter in the bark of fruit trees in check with a spray of oil now. Follow directions on the label. Don’t ignore temperature warnings to avoid damaging the trees. Also, be sure to spray as soon as possible before the flower or leaf buds begin to open.
Encourage Difficult Seeds
Some items with small seeds or seeds that are slow to sprout really do better if you soak the seeds and let them start sprouting indoors first. Now is the time to start peas, spinach, carrots and beets; all of which can be tricky to sprout. Soak the seeds for 12 to 24 hours first. Completely cover them with water. After a few hours of soaking, give any still floating a push to see they sink. Throw away any that don’t. That usually means they’re duds and won’t sprout.
Rake Away Camellia and Azalea Troubles
Rake away old mulch from below camellias and azaleas and replace with fresh to help protect the blossoms from petal blight, a disease that turns the flowers brown. The fungus spores from last year are in the mulch and soil. By replacing the mulch, you remove the source of spores to help keep it from coming back.
Give Houseplants a Bath
Dusty houseplants will appreciate a shower to rinse off dust blocking precious sunlight. At the same time, you may be rinsing off some mites hiding on the underside of the leaves. Make sure to put a screen over the drain to catch any soil that might run out the bottom of the pot. Shower tepid water over the entire plant for a minute or two and turn the big leaves of plants like palms and peace lily so the water also hits the underside to wash away hiding insects. Look for scales on the leaves and stems. They don’t wash away. Try treating with a houseplant approved pesticide, like insecticidal soap. If the scale is bad, sometimes it’s better to get rid of the plant than risk having the scale spread to other plants in the house. A word of caution: Don’t do this to African violets; they don’t like wet leaves.
Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.