What Do Plants Need Now?

A bit of winter-time TLC is good for the landscape

During the growing season our plants do talk back.  The length of the grass says, “It’s time to mow” and flowers with spent blooms cry out for deadheading.  In the quieter, dormant time of winter, plants won’t be screaming for attention, but they may still need some care.
With a milder weekend ahead, there’s an opportunity to check out the landscape and put a few things in order.

Look for snow and wind damage
Many herbaceous shrubs have weak wood and long, pliable branches that make them susceptible to wind and snow damage.  Examples include Russian sage, golden elder, sumac, pussy willow, blue mist spirea and dark night spirea.  

Any branch that has been broken by the weather – and this includes trees – should have damaged areas pruned.  Those rips and breaks are an open invitation to pests and disease of all kinds.  Protect these plants from further damage with timely pruning as a little maintenance now can save more work and treatment costs later.

Upright evergreens and shrub forms of arborvitae often splay open under snow loads.  While it’s best to bundle these shrubs before the snow flies, they can still be pulled back together after the fact.  

Netting and other materials can be wrapped around evergreens to re-shape them in their natural, upright position.  Remember to remove the wrapping material in the summer once the plant starts to grow and re-establish its natural form.  If not removed, these materials can girdle the plant and eventually kill it.

Ornamental grasses are generally left standing in the garden to provide winter interest.  Their shape and plumes swaying in the breeze add seasonal interest.   After heavy snows, however, many of these grasses – especially ones in unprotected areas – get smashed and broken.

These broken and bent grasses won’t bounce back to their upright shape, so they should be cut back.  For a neater look, avoid cutting grasses straight across the top with every stalk at the same height.  Instead, cut grasses below where they are bent and broken and make the cuts at varied heights to create a more rounded shape among the stalks.  

If grasses remain undamaged during the winter, leave them alone until spring.  Do make a planning note that last year’s growth needs to be removed before this year’s growth emerges.  Once the old and new growth intertwines, it’s a time consuming chore to separate and remove the old growth.

Winter watering
Good moisture going into the fall and the snowfall to date has generally kept areas along the Front Range protected from drought.  When plants are snow covered, there is no need for moisture.  However, an unusually warm and dry February could change things, so pay attention to warm temperatures and lack of moisture.  

The first areas to dry out will be south-facing areas and especially, plants on south-facing slopes because of the intensive solar radiation.  Lawns in these areas can dry out quickly.  The same is true for bed areas with shrubs and perennials along south-facing walls.  Check these areas after a series of warm, dry days and be ready to water as needed.

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