Upper South

February, 2010
Regional Report

Bring Branches Into Bloom

With a little effort and patience, branches of spring-flowering trees and shrubs can be brought into bloom early indoors. About six weeks before the normal flowering time, cut 1- to 2-foot branches and completely submerge in tepid water overnight. Trim the cut ends and stand in a vase of water, misting with water occasionally and keeping the vase filled with water. Put in a cool place and buds should open in a week or two. Forsythia, flowering quince, and crabapples are some of the favorites, but pussywillow is the easiest of all to bring into bloom.

Clean Birdhouses

Many birds start nesting much earlier than you might suppose. Get ready for them by cleaning existing birdhouses. Remove last year's nest, scrub, and rinse well. To attract a wide variety of small birds, choose a birdhouse with an opening one-and-a-quarter inches across. Bluebirds need an opening one-and-a-half inches in diameter. If you don't have birdhouses around your yard, this is a great time to buy several, preferably choosing ones that are sturdy, plain wood with hardware that makes them easy to clean.

Give Hollies Some Fertilizer

Although evergreen hollies are easy-care plants, to get extra-lush growth, apply an organic fertilizer specifically designed for hollies every three years while the ground is frozen. Scatter the fertilizer from about one foot out from the trunk to one-and-a-half beyond the limb spread. Follow manufacturer's recommendations for the rate. A mulch of composted chicken manure or pine needles is also beneficial for hollies.

Prevent Shrub Winter Burn

Evergreen shrubs are much more susceptible to winter burn now than in the depths of winter. When air temperatures begin to warm before the soil thaws, ground water is not available to plants. As the plant transpires, the lost water cannot be replaced by the roots. To slow transpiration, spray plants with an antidessicant, following manufacturer's directions.. It's also important to be sure plants receive adequate water when the ground does thaw, either from rain or the tap.

Prune Grape Vines

If you haven't already pruned grape vines, do so very soon to prevent excessive sap loss. Although this "bleeding" doesn't really hurt the plant, it is messy and worrisome. Grapes are borne on canes formed the previous year. The most productive buds are between the fourth and tenth nodes. Don't hesitate to prune off most of the growth, as this produces the healthiest and most productive vines.

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