The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Plenty to do in a winter garden

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Most of us have chores left on our list from last fall. A good day to garden never came. Now my definition of a good day includes any day without a torrential downpour or blinding snow storm. As soon as your "good day" arrives, here is your "to do" list:

Ornamental grasses swaying in the breeze add interest to the winter garden; however, the dead leaves and stalks should be cut back to about 4 inches before growth resumes. Tie the dead leaves together first. Some of the stalks can be particularly tough to cut. Electric hedge trimmers work well. Cool season grasses such as Feather Red Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora) green up quickly in spring. The popular Miscanthus cultivars are warm season grasses so you have more time to tackle them.

Prune trees and summer flowering shrubs while still dormant. Many shrubs can be reduced in size by using renewal or heading back methods. Summer flowering shrubs such as pink spirea and redtwig dogwood bloom on new wood after mid June. Renewal pruning method is the removal of the oldest stems leaving the younger stems to develop. Take some of the branches indoors for an early touch of spring. Wait until after bloom for spring blooming shrubs such as lilac and forsythia.

Apply dormant oil spray to euonymus to control the insect euonymus scale. Dormant oil sprays will also give partial control of pine needle scale. Dormant oil spray can also be applied to apple trees to control San Jose scale, eggs of European spider mites and eggs of rosy apple aphid. Temperatures should be above freezing for 24 hours after spraying. Read and follow all label directions.

Some scale species such as oystershell scale are not controlled by dormant oil sprays. Get accurate identification of insects.

Remember when pruning grape vines the grapes are produced from the buds of one year old canes which are about 1/4 to 1/3 inches in diameter and are reddish brown. When properly pruned, 80 to 90 % of the grape wood is removed every year. Now you know why people can make so many grapevine wreathes.

Grape vines with a main trunk and four canes are often trained to a two-wire trellis. Before pruning, select four strong lateral one-year-old canes (arms) that are close to the trellis and mark with a ribbon or colored tape. The largest and heaviest canes are not good fruit producers.

Tie the four arms to the trellis. Choose four more lateral canes to become the arms for next year. Remove everything else. Prune off the ends of this year's arms so that 10 to 15 buds remain on each of the arms and only two buds are left on the renewal spurs (next year's arms).

Prune red raspberries. Remove all short and weak canes. The large remaining canes are thinned to 4 to 8 inches apart. The canes are cut back to 5-6 feet tall or if no support is provided 3 to 4 feet tall. Last year's productive canes should be removed anytime after harvest. Canes are productive only one year and the new growth will produce the next year's harvest. The exception is everbearing raspberries such as 'Heritage' which produce a second crop in the spring on the canes that produced last fall.

Fruit trees need to be pruned every year to remain productive. If left unpruned, fruit production tends to be limited to the top and outer portions of the tree and every other year. Peaches are pruned just before bloom and during bloom.

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