December and January have been warmer than usual winters, and there certainly hasn’t been very much snow. So we are probably itching to get out into the garden and do something.
Generally, late winter is the time to prune many shrubs, trees and brambles. It is only mid-winter. Last Saturday was the Cross Day, the halfway point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Deep cold can occur in February, so plants that have been pruned early may suffer winter kill on the ends of the branches. It is better to wait until the last week of February before yielding the loppers and saws.
So, what can you do now to cure the gardening itch? I find this is a perfect time to clean my pruning tools with soapy water. That is all that is needed to remove most dried sap. Then a thorough drying, and I apply light oil, or silicon to the moving parts so the tool is doing the work and not my arms and shoulders. Oiling wood handles makes them less likely to split into slivers.
Do any of you have hand pruners with dark-colored handles — those are the ones I am always misplacing in the flowerbed. February is when I paint those handles fire-engine red or hazard orange. It makes life so much easier.
As long as I am in a cleaning mood, mid-February is a great time to clean the rest of my hand tools, and clean and sharpen the edges of my shovels and spades.
Now you are itching to be out in the garden, so go out and make a plan.
Making a plan is what prevents us from getting overwhelmed by a gardening task. Do you know anyone who has gone out on an early spring Saturday, worked from dawn to dusk, got everything done and could not walk, bend over or use their elbows for a week after the extreme garden activity? By making a plan, you can divide up all the tasks and spread them out over a number of gardening sessions.
In the late winter and early spring, I like working in the sunshine rather than in the shade, so I prune the raspberries and blackberries in the morning, and when that part of the garden is no longer brightly lit, I clean my tools, put them away for the day and make myself a cup of cocoa. Then a few days later in the afternoon, in the sunshine in another part of my garden, I deadhead the seedpods from the ocean spray and the elderberry shrubs. Life is good in small doses.
When it is time to prune, remember that all of your spring flowering shrubs have already created their bloom buds. The Forsythia, lilac, rhododendron, azalea, Spiraea, quince, mock orange, Viburnum, Hydrangea and other spring shrubs do not get re-shaped or cut back until June when their blooms are finished
One last thought about February tasks: It is the time to apply dormant or delayed dormant sprays on your fruit trees to eliminate insect pests that damage fruit. Call the WSU Master Gardeners at 667-6540 or email email@example.com (include your address and a phone number) to receive written instructions about what to spray on your trees and when to spray it.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured.