Mid-January is almost always my least favorite time of year for gardening. The houseplants are in fresh new pots, the earthworms are happily munching on banana peels and coffee grounds, the yard is as cleaned up as it will get until spring, and the ground is too frozen for digging that new path. Besides watering evergreens, there is only one garden task that really needs doing this time of year: planning for spring.
Even if planning ahead is not your style, there is a good chance that it will save you time, money and a lot of headaches later. Skip the graph paper and start with a list of to-do items. On my list, there are projects that need to be finished, plants that need to be removed, empty spots that need plants and projects for sometime in the future.
Plant choices are often more challenging than projects, and deciding what to remove is just as daunting as deciding what to buy.
For removals, start with plants with decayed and/or damaged areas that are unlikely to recover. At the top of my list is a mulberry tree in the back yard that is split, partially dead and creaks every time the wind blows. Large trees and miraculous recoveries have yet to meet, so I hope to cut it down before it falls.
If you have a dead pine or dead elm tree, those should be at the top of your list for removal. Pines are likely to harbor beetles that transmit the fatal pine wilt disease, and elms may harbor Dutch elm disease. Dead pines should be removed by April 1 to help slow the spread of the disease, and the wood should also be shredded, burned or buried before that date.
Shrubs and flowers that are diseased are less of a hazard if left in place, but the causal agent could still spread to other plants. These plants are also unlikely to make an amazing comeback. If the plant is more than half-dead, take it out.
For the replacement list, try to think beyond re-planting whatever died in that spot. Carefully consider the amount of sun the area gets and how much room is available, and base your selections from that. This process sounds simple enough, and yet many of us have planted something only to realize it was a poor choice later.
Available space means considering the mature size of the plants around the empty space as well as the mature size of the intended plant. The little yews and mugo pines at the nursery are only cute until they block the doorway (although they are great plants when given ample space). Read the tags, study garden catalogs or peruse garden books for ideas.
Don’t feel obligated to complete your list this year. Just like the plants, my garden to-do list is always growing and changing.
— Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent–Horticulture for K-State Research and Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058.