I’d be willing to bet nobody really misses 2020. For a lot of people, gardening was probably one of the few things that felt normal. That’s what’s amazing about nature, as long as you follow basic rules, like making sure plants have water, light and decent fertility, they’ll generally grow. Maybe even better than you’d expect.
Although I worked from home for much of 2020, I didn’t spend much time in the garden. Too often, I looked at my back yard and made a list of tasks I needed to get done out there.
Then I’d go back to my computer, attending ZOOM meetings, answering emails, writing, preparing classes to teach online - all those duties that take up a workday. Then I’d look up and it’s dark. No gardening in the dark.
So, my new year’s resolution – not that I’ll make my wildly overplanted back yard a showplace, but I am going to make it tidier. It’s a modest plan, but it’s going to be work.
First, I’m going to do “rejuvenation pruning” on my honeysuckle vine. I love honeysuckle – lovely flowers, smells heavenly and grows anywhere. In some parts of the world, it’s an invasive weed, but not here. Mine’s about 15 years old. Every few years, I prune it to less than a foot high. Under all the green foliage there’s a mass of dry old stems that aren’t doing the plant any good. It will look pretty forlorn, only a bunch of stems. But, when it gets a hint of spring, it’ll burst into new growth. By summer, I’ll have flowers.
Many plants appreciate grooming. Like roses. Roses thrive with serious pruning. At the Extension office, there’s a rose garden, installed and maintained by Master Gardener rosarians. In mid-winter, the shrubs don’t look all that great, since they received major pruning. In a couple of months though, they’ll be glorious, as only roses can be. In my little back yard, where I have five different varieties, they respond marvelously to grooming. When I dead-head them, just getting rid of spent blossoms and the twigs where they grew, I’m only trying to make them look a bit neater. The plants reply by producing bumper crops of new roses. This is not a complaint, but it’s hard to think about cutting them vigorously when they’re flowering like mad.
It probably has something to do with my microclimate – higher humidity and protection from wind. It almost never freezes back there.
Mid-winter’s the time to take out those pruners, especially if you have fruit trees. Unless you enjoy climbing ladders, try to keep fruit trees short, so you can actually reach the fruit. If you don’t prune them, you might have a shade tree, but you might also have a huge crop of tiny, not particularly flavorful fruit. At the Extension office I left one apple tree unpruned – just let it grow. Well, it did. It grew so well, and produced so many fruits, that the tree split from the weight of all those apples. We’ve tinkered so much with our food plants over the millennia. Now, they need our intervention. Old varieties may grow without us, but these trees get over 20 feet tall and wide. Most of the fruit trees we grow are dwarf, but to keep them under 8 feet tall, we need to prune.
With all that pruning, we wind up with a lot of yard waste. Seems a shame to just trash it. I broke down bought a little chipper, turning waste into mulch. If you’d just rather get rid of it, though, you can schedule a pickup with Republic services.
Extension has new publications for gardeners, including Research Orchard Fruit Evaluations & Recommendations for Southern Nevada – 2020”. https://extension.unr.edu/default.aspx
We have new pest factsheets, one on root knot nematodes, the other on field bindweed. We also have a new venomous reptiles booklet. These are in addition to our fact sheets on roses, general pruning, and getting a garden started. Check them out on our website.
Remember, Extension is open, and the Master Gardener Help Line is there to answer your gardening questions.
For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Extension. Have a fabulous New Year, everybody.