Mill Pond Garden will offer a director’s tour from noon to 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 16. Partcipants will learn how to look at the garden’s bare bones for improving design and planning its future as a four-season garden.
The garden will be open from 10 a.m. to noon, Sunday, Jan. 17, to showcase good winter appeal. To subscribe free or to get tickets to either event, go to millpondgarden.com. Located at 31401 Melloy Court, Lewes, this small botanical garden offers professional horticultural advice, shares best practices, and shows what grows best in the Cape Region.
Winter is the ideal time for weeding, pruning, installing landscape improvements, doing tree work and planning for the coming growing season.
Mill Pond Garden shares these recommendations for winter gardening.
Winter’s freezing temperatures and snow bring special considerations. First, lawn grass is fragile when frozen and should not be walked on, to avoid damage that will show as brown spots later. It’s best to stay off lawns during freezing times.
If heavy or wet snow piles up on evergreens, use a broom to shake or brush it off, pushing up from the underside, to prevent branches breaking. Many shrubs can handle heavy snow, but others can break easily, so gardeners have to observe and learn which need some help.
A big concern should be winter lawn weeds that thrive in cold weather, like chickweed, bedstraw, dandelion, hen bit, hairy bittercress, shepherd’s purse, and hawkweed. Mid to late fall is the best time to spot apply a broadleaf herbicide to these weeds. Apply again in late winter or early spring.
If weeds are not too thick, pull them, always the most effective removal method. During a mild spell, pull weeds out using a pry tool under the root crown. For many easy-yielding weeds, the best technique is to use thumb and first two fingers to firmly grab the plant crown just below the soil surface and jiggle it out, root and all.
Lawn weeds are often caused by improper mowing practices; frequent, shallow watering; not fertilizing correctly; compacted soil; and soil conditions like poor drainage or improper pH, which indicates acidity or alkalinity. These factors contribute to the decline of lawn grass, allowing weeds to move in. Lawns can be difficult to grow in the Cape Region, but success comes with the right practices and the right grass seed. As recommended by John Emerson, Delaware’s extension agent for turf, use fine fescues for medium to dark shade and tall fescues for light shade to full sun. But save that job for early April, and even better, early September.
The Cape Region often has mild winter spells, and these are good times for garden construction projects which, if done in the growing season, interfere with garden use and beauty. Consider outdoor projects like decks, patios, paving, arbors, fire pits, driveway work, or building ponds, sheds, retaining walls, fences, or digging a new bed or planting area. Winter is also a good time to set out woody plants as long as the ground is not frozen. Local nurseries have a lot of stock, though more choices will arrive in spring.
When planning to construct, be respectful about property lines, neighbors, community regulations and setbacks to avoid problems later. Setbacks and permissible improvements are set by homeowner association rules and local regulations with force of law. Storm drains, tax ditches, and streets are easements on which it is not permitted to build. Waterways like ponds, creeks and wetlands have buffers prohibiting not only building, but also any removal of vegetation. There are rules about fences and fence heights. Code setbacks for structures vary by town, county and development. Some kinds of construction require a county permit as well. The bottom line is to check the rules that apply to one’s property before planning or starting a project.
Midwinter is a good time to start pruning. In February, cut roses back to about 24-30 inches high for maximum flowering results, as recommended by the American Rose Society. Unlike most shrubs that store sap and carbohydrates in their roots, roses store carbohydrates in their thick stems. Cutting them too low gets rid of their stored capacity to grow new roses in spring.
On other flowering shrubs, take out the oldest fifth of canes. Shrubs bloom more heavily on younger canes than on older ones. Shape tops of shrubs and small trees to fit their space. For needle evergreen shrubs, cut back to a joint with side branches with green leaves on them. An easy-to-use reference with exact pruning recommendations for ornamental woody plants is the Sunset Pruning Handbook, with concise advice and good illustrations.
Midwinter is also the best time to do big tree work, and often offers the lowest prices, since most tree work is done after storms, in summer and highest demand. Take care of tree problems in a timely manner to avoid damage or liability issues. Shop around for arborist and tree company prices, which can vary widely, and get references. Word of mouth is often a good source for tree work help.
The other good use of winter downtime is planning and dreaming up one’s idea of heaven. The word paradise in ancient languages means garden or literally, the Garden of Eden. Look at the bare garden and consider uses and wishes, and how to make them come true. A big recommendation from Mill Pond Garden is to add more or bigger beds so there are winding pathways to make the garden look and feel larger, with more variety, more plants, lower maintenance and better experience of the garden’s beauty. Now is the time to study plant catalogs and books, look at other area gardens for ideas, and order plants or at least get a list ready for shopping at local nurseries in spring.