Winter Planning For Spring Planting

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One of the true pleasures of winter is relaxing in front of a roaring fire without having to worry about all the landscaping and gardening chores that consume so much time in the summer.

According to Aristotle's Theory of Laggard Gardening, all things on your property either die or go dormant in the winter giving you a much-needed opportunity to rest and rejuvenate your green thumb. A correlary axiom states that what you can't see under a layer of snow won't hurt you.

Actually, said Kathy Shaw, manager of Plant Fair Nursery in Star Valley, there is some truth to those rationalizations. Gardening and landscaping activities do slow down in the winter.

But if you're a Type A personality, or you like to lay guilt trips on yourself, or you just want to get a little exercise, there's plenty to do out in the yard during the winter. The fact is, like so many things in our increasingly complex lives, gardening is not just for summer anymore.

But Shaw has a gentle, restful way to help you ease back into the gardening mode. She suggested thumbing through the various seed and garden catalogs that are already filling Rim country mailboxes.

With pictures so evocative you can almost smell the flowers, they're great for generating ideas and stirring that urge to once again be one with Mother Earth.

But winter is anything but a sedentary time to look at pictures of pretty flowers as you drift off into a dream world of pest and disease-free gardens and yards. Shaw, who has worked at Plant Fair for 15 years, said now yes, now is a good time to take care of a lot of gardening and yard-related chores.

"Our mild winters are a great time for mulching and fertilizing, for cleaning up weeds and debris and for dormant spraying for over-wintering pests," Shaw said.

And not only are there over-wintering pests, including moth larva eggs, to worry about, there also are over-wintering diseases such as fungi.

"You can spray fruit trees with an oil-based product, and you can also treat plants with a fungicide like lime sulfur," she said.

The question Shaw is most frequently asked during the winter is how often to water.

"If it has been dry for several weeks, it's a good thing to water any new plants or trees especially those that are a year or two old," she said.

Another question Shaw hears a lot, especially from people who haven't experienced a whole lot of snow, is what to do with trees and shrubs that are bent to the ground under the weight of a heavy snow.

"Actually, heavy snow and freezing temperatures kind of insulate," she said. "But it's a good idea to clean the tree or shrub off so it can stand upright especially if it's young. Heavy snow can break off major branches."

And if you haven't yet mulched your roses, you better hurry out and do it if you want them protected from the extremely cold temperatures that can strike in January and February.

"Make sure you mulch well above where they're grafted with maybe six to eight inches of mulch," Shaw said.

But it's more than just flora that should disturb your winter's sleep. While the bears may be hibernating, much of the Rim country's fauna is out and about, scrounging and foraging to survive.

"People are still complaining about problems with elk," Shaw said. "The rains were late and there is no forage, so they come in looking for food."

Unfortunately for manicured trees and bushes, a hungry elk is not particularly fussy. "They'll eat just about anything with leaves," Shaw said.

Combating critters such as elk is a hit-and-miss proposition. Some people have success stringing fishing line around their property, others keep animals away by hanging colorful plastic strips that flutter in the breeze.

If you don't have any luck with such home remedies, Plant Fair carries a variety of repellents, including one that will sure keep this reporter off your property predator urine.

The winter also is a good time of the year to begin feeding birds.

"Food can be scarce, especially in the snow," Shaw said. "You can put bird seed under a tree where there's no snow, or you can get out and clean off your feeders and use them."

For those who have a pent-up desire to go outside and dig a hole, Shaw said there are many items that can be planted year-round. "You can plant evergreens, shrubbery and deciduous trees all winter long things like juniper, euonymys, hollies, boxwood, pine, spruce, fir, pyrocantha, and lots of different shrubbery."

There is, in fact, at least one major advantage to planting during the winter.

"While there isn't much root development during the winter months it gives the plant a head start on the hot summer," Shaw said. "A lot of people plant in May, but June is usually a harsh month up here, and that can make it really hard on something you've just planted."

Bare-root planting for such vegetation as fruit trees, shade trees, roses, grapes, berries and lilacs also can begin now.

Bare-root planting is followed closely by the bulb-planting season. And if you want to start any vegetable plants from seed indoors, you'll want to plant them about two months before you plan to move them to your outdoor garden.

Plant Fair offers a free guide that tells you when to plant what.

Gardening activities you can undertake without venturing outside include tending to your house plants, especially re-potting those that are outgrowing their current containers. While you can grow herbs such as parsley, chives and thyme in a windowsill year-round, Shaw said she prefers to grow her herbs outdoors, thus taking advantage of the Rim country's relatively long growing season.

And for you black-thumbed non-gardeners, winter time is a great time to start working on what they call in the nursery biz a water feature otherwise known as a pond.

For ecologically responsible gardeners, Shaw recommends using drought-tolerant, low-water-use plants and watering judiciously, as well as using rocks to fill in holes in your landscaping.

"Rocks don't use water, and you can 'plant' them anytime of the year," she said.

But if you're still a committed Aristotelian and you have opted instead for a long winter's nap, you can at least drift off by thinking about which of the hardier vegetables you want to give a head start by planting in March.

According to Shaw, those that can take the cold include beets, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips and garlic.

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