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  • David Salman

Top 5 Dry Winter Garden Care Tips

David Salman, Horticulturist

Gardening to be done in January & February

We are having another very dry winter. Given how dry the growing season was this past year, the soil is depleted of moisture, and winter watering is essential, especially for new plantings. Climate disruption is continuing to create a new gardening environment for us all.

Here are my Top 5 Tasks I recommend you undertake this month.

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. 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 - spring will likely be early this year. (But I'm positive we can still count on some late spring frosts to bring us a little disappointment.) So don't wait to get your pruning done as plants respond best to pruning when they are well dormant.

- 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. Wrap the Trunks of Young Trees to Protect Against Rabbits

Rabbits will be eating the bark of young trees this very dry winter. This is especially true of fruit trees which they seem to prefer. Purchase a roll or two of tree wrap and cover the bottom 3 ft. of the trunk. This will also help to protect against Southwest Winter Injury also known as winter sunburn of the bark. If you don't have tree wrap, use corrugated cardboard and twine to get the job done. Remove wrap and cardboard in late April/early May.

4. Gopher Control

The winter has been so mild here in the Santa Fe area, that the soil hasn't even frozen. In years past, the ground here would be frozen solid down at least 2 feet deep, which would bring an end to gopher tunneling until the thaw began in spring. Now they are active almost year-round. Bummer.....

Pay careful attention to flower beds and young trees, whose roots are two favorite gopher food.

5. Planting

I'm going to start planting frost-hardy trees, shrubs, and perennials earlier than normal. And I plan to get my all plantings finished by late May. But for now, I'm just recommending that gardeners get a jump on the summer heat by getting trees and shrubs established early. Granted, the selection of woody plants in area nurseries may be a bit sparse, but go take a look and do some bargaining. Be sure and make a big well around the plants for irrigation water and mulch well. Water every three weeks. Wrap the bottom 3 ft. of tree trunks to protect against rabbits and sunburn.

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