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  • Tracy Neal, David Salman and Ava Salman

5 Winter and Early Spring Garden Care Tips

David Salman, Horticulturist

Winter and Early Spring Garden Activities

As we wait for our gardens to wake up and come into new growth and bloom, there are a host of garden-related activities that can give us inspiration for the new season. Here are some to consider.

1. Winter Watering - The Santa Fe Ski Basin is getting some snow this winter, but down here at 7,000 ft elevation here in town and the surrounding areas, we need to continue to water our gardens and recent transplants once a month. Don't turn on your drip systems and sprinklers as the freezing temperatures will damage them. Instead, use a sprinkler and hose to water when day temperatures are at least 45° F.

Set a timer and move the water every 30 to 45 minutes or longer so the ground gets good and damp. Any transplants in the ground 2 years or less must be watered every 2 to 4 weeks depending on how much sun hits the planting sites; the more sun the more frequent the watering. Be sure to disconnect the hose from the faucet and drain the hose after each day's use.

2. Pruning - For many shrubs and trees, shaping them while they are dormant is recommended. Generally speaking, waiting until the worst of winter has passed and near to when they break dormancy is safest. This typically means pruning any time from late February to late March. One exception to this approach is the group of spring-blooming shrubs that wake up the garden early. These include lilacs, Forsythias, currants, mock oranges, and other spring flowering shrubs.

Pruning correctly is both an art and a science, and requires special knowledge. Santa Fe Botanical Garden is offering a pruning workshop on February 25 where you can learn how to prune properly. If you have trees that are too large or too daunting for you to prune, contact a Certified Arborist to do this for you.

- Trees: shape the canopy and remove double leaders (split central branches at the top of the tree). Remove whole branches from fruit and ornamental flowering trees as needed but DON'T just cut the tips of a lot of branches as this will remove the year-old flowering wood necessary for flowering and fruit set.

- Shrubs: Remove whole branches off mature plants when needed but DON'T just cut the tips of a lot of branches as this will remove the year-old flowering wood. This applies to forsythia, lilacs, flowering quince, white-flowered spirea, flowering almond, and most other spring-flowering varieties.

- Summer blooming shrubs like Potentilla, Russian Sage, Butterfly bush, and Blue Mist Spirea should be left to stand over the winter and pruned back in April.

Leave roses alone and wait until early May (after the danger of hard frost) to prune them. Pruning roses stimulates new growth which will be damaged by frost if pruning is done too early.

3. Feeding and watering our allies - Finding food and water can be a real challenge for local birds in the winter. Help them out with feeders and an open source of water through the winter and they will provide beauty and pest control in your garden through the summer.

4. Learn - Winter is a great time to learn more about how to have a beautiful and bountiful garden as we move into a future of continuing climate change. Classes at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and Santa Fe Community College offer lots of useful information. Many newer books about landscaping, gardening, and water harvesting can greatly broaden your knowledge. Garden catalogs and websites offer a great variety of plants that you can consider adding to your garden.

5. Study your own garden! - Take some time during warm sunny afternoons to walk through your garden or simply sit and notice the details of the soil, the structure, the colors and forms of the dormant plants, and the way sunlight moves through the garden in the winter. Consider possible changes you might want to make, while you enjoy what’s working in the garden.

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