In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
December, 2008
Regional Report

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If your garden doesn't have enough to keep you busy, go to the nursery!

Winter in Sunny California

Winter gardening in California involves more than sitting at the kitchen table reading seed catalogs. For those of us who are inspired, winter is the time to get organized, rake and clean the garden, pull weeds, plant, prune, and get muddy.

Mud
If you have adobe clay soil on your property, you already know the rapturous joy of the sticky clay that clings tenaciously to shovel blades. It's next to impossible to scrape it off. Or, worse yet, the 15-pound boots with the six-inch platform soles made of mud. They tell me that in Maine there is such a thing as "mud season." It can't be any worse than it is here.

The only solution for muddy flower beds is to wait. If you walk on, or try to work, muddy soil it becomes compacted and ruins the soil texture and porosity. Even trying to turn the soil while it's wet will result in clods that are difficult to break up once the weather warms. Besides, you will take the chance of chopping the heads off earthworm that are living near the surface.

Clean and Healthy
A clean garden is a healthy garden, so get out there and work up a sweat by raking the soil clean underneath shrubs. Removing fallen foliage is a great way to eliminate pest hiding places and overwintering insect eggs. The debris you collect can be composted, but don't expect much to happen in your compost pile before the temperatures begin to climb again in the spring.

Fallen fruit should also be raked up and removed. Citrus should be harvested from the bottom of the tree first to prevent brown rot, a fungal disease, from splashing back up onto the immature fruit. By the way, citrus should be harvested for taste rather than color.

Winter Weeds
There are some very tenacious winter weeds out there that should be dealt with including Poa annua, chickweed and the ever-present nutgrass. Wet soil is ideal for pulling up weeds, roots and all. Grasp the weed by the base, near the soil, then twist and pull straight up. Put a penny in a jar for every weed that comes out of the ground with the roots intact.

Bare-Root Planting
The only kind of planting I recommend in winter is bare-root planting. You can get terrific bargains on roses, fruit trees, berry vines, and other perennial plants by planting during the dormant season. Nurseries carry more bare-root varieties because they don't take much floor space. So, if you have ever wanted to try your hand at growing grapes, now is your chance. Planting from bare-root stock also helps the plant adapt to your native soil. It's a win-win situation.

Pruning
It's not quite time for dormant-season pruning, but you can safely remove any dead, diseased, or injured limbs and branches from trees and shrubs. Leptospermum, pittosporum, hebe, and other blooming shrubs can be pruned to allow light to reach the inner branches. Thinning is a technique I never quite mastered, but I still keep trying. By pruning to allow light to reach the interior of the plant, you will increase the bloom.

Organize
Dig into the tool shed and take inventory. Get rid of any tool that has outlived its usefulness. Goodwill Industries will accept old garden tools as donations. There is no reason to keep four pairs of hedge shears when you only use the new ones. Clean and sharpen cutting tools, use linseed oil on wooden handles of digging tools, and use wire wool to remove rust from hoes and shovels. Replace everything in an orderly manner.

If you keep yourself busy during the long days of winter, spring will roll around before you know it!


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