Monday, January 18, 2010

Winter Gardening Ideas and Resources

Last year about this time we were still getting over the shock of a plethora of snow. This year, a stretch of unseasonably warm weather has already brought out spring fever in a lot of folks, as I have witnessed during walks around my neighborhood... and I am starting to feel it myself- how about you?

Lest I am tempted to begin my Rose pruning or garden cleanup chores, I must keep in mind that some cold blasts could (and probably will) come our way in the next couple of months, and all my plants will benefit from being left alone for a while longer. Which reminds me.... if you happen to have any fluffy seedheads amongst your perennial border debris, count yourself lucky and remember to watch for Anna's Hummingbirds who are already on the hunt for soft things to whisk away and use as lining for their tiny little nests!

However, these mid-late winter days are a great time to attend some garden classes and events, to prepare for the upcoming growing season. Here are some that I heartily recommend:

Fruit Tree classes:
City Fruit is a new non-profit organization dedicated to teaching homeowners about how to choose and care for new and existing fruit trees, and organizing volunteers to harvest excess healthy fruit to feed people in need. Late winter is the best time for pruning most all fruit trees. Detailed descriptions of all their hands-on classes, plus a great series of free fruit tree factsheets to download, are available at
  • Jan 30 Fruit Tree Pruning: 10 am – noon. N. Seattle home. Pruning your fruit tree will improve its health, productivity and appearance. This beginner’s class covers the basics.
  • Jan 30 Fruit Tree Pruning: 10 am – noon, Bradner Gardens Park, South Seattle. Learn to prune apple, plum, and pear trees and some berry bushes at one of Seattle’s premier teaching gardens.
  • Feb 6 Fruit Varieties for the Pacific NW: 1 – 3 pm. Environmental Works, 402 15th Ave E. Find out which varieties of fruit grow best in the Pacific Northwest, why rootstocks are important, and how to decide what size to plant.
  • Feb 20 The Art of Espalier: 10 am – 2 pm Location: TBA
  • Mar 6 Pruning Grape Vines: 9 am – noon Phinney/Greenlake home. Learn how to prune and train grape vines and get tips on growing grapes for best production.
  • Mar 13 Planting and Caring for Young Fruit Trees: 10 am – noon. Location TBA. Find out how and where to plant your new tree, how to keep it healthy and when to start expecting fruit.
Sat. Feb. 20th: NW Premiere of Highly-Acclaimed Documentary
The Coalition of Organic Landscape Professionals (COOL) and Seattle Tilth are proud to co-host the Pacific Northwest Premiere of the highly-acclaimed documentary ‘A Chemical Reaction’
Saturday Feb. 20th
From 2:00pm- 6:00pm
At Lake Washington Technical College
West Building Auditorium, Rm. #404
11605 132nd Avenue NE
Kirkland, WA 98034-8506

On the heels of sellout premieres at the World Film Festival in Montreal and across the United States, the inspirational documentary, 'A Chemical Reaction', is making its Pacific Northwest premiere on Saturday, February 20th. A feature-length film by director Brett Plymale, the film was awarded four stars by the film critics of the Montreal Gazette. The premiere event will also feature keynote speaker Paul Tukey, the nationally-known gardening host who is the executive producer and narrator of the film. Tukey is also the founder of the regional gardening magazine "People, Places & Plants", author of best-seller ”The Organic Lawn Care Manual”, and founder of, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting natural lawn care and grounds maintenance. The event will feature displays and resources from The Garden Hotline and several other environmental organizations, books for sale, refreshments, and a question-and-answer session and book-signing with Paul Tukey after the movie screening.

Much of the movie’s story focuses on Dr. June Irwin, a dermatologist who spurred the first town in Canada to ban lawn and garden chemicals pesticides in 1991. When Hudson, Quebec, told the lawn care giant then known as ChemLawn that it couldn’t apply its synthetic chemical products within town borders, it set off a chain of high-profile court cases that culminated in the Canadian Supreme Court in 2001. The town won the case in a landmark 9-0 decision, and the chemical ban soon spread to the entire province of Quebec. Ontario enacted lawn chemical restrictions on Earth Day 2009, and hundreds of other Canadian municipalities have also passed legislation. This issue is particularly relevant in the Puget Sound region, where chemical fertilizers and pesticides run off into our lakes, rivers, streams, and the sound during each rainfall.

The film has also drawn the ire of representatives from the billion-dollar chemical lawn care industry, who called Paul Tukey an “enviro-maniac” in a widespread email campaign launched last fall. Tukey appears frequently on screen during A Chemical Reaction while interviewing key figures in the anti-pesticide movement in Canada and the U.S. He said his goal in making the film is to create awareness of the health hazards and environmental degradation associated with lawn care chemicals.

To view a movie trailer, visit

$10.00 in advance from or $15.00 at the door.
Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to
Free parking in the south or west parking lots (follow the sandwich board signs)
Campus map and driving directions:
Sponsored by a variety of local horticulture organizations, businesses, and individuals.
For more information, visit or call 206-362-8947.

Other garden tasks that can be done this time of year without any risk:

1. Putting Beneficials to Work in Your Garden
Late winter is also the time to put up Orchard Mason Bee Houses, to help ensure that these beneficial pollinators are attracted to visit newly-opened fruit and berry blossoms before the spring rains wash their pollen off. Bee blocks can be purchased at many local nurseries, or you can make your own out of an untreated 4x4 with the easy instructions at

Installing a nest box for Chickadees is a fantastic way to ensure aphid control during our annual spring outbreak. Remarkably, their nestlings are born at the same time that the aphid population explosion happens around here! Visit the Audubon Store in NE Seattle to purchase one for under $25.00, or visit for free nest box plans. Besides a next box that is made to the preferred dimensions, proper mounting of the nest box so that predators cannot reach the nestlings is also very important. I recommend mounting it on a metal pole at the 'outskirts' of the canopy of a flexible-branched tree.

2. Soil Tests on New or Existing Food-growing Areas
It's a good idea to have a soil test done before installing new food-growing beds, especially if you are concerned about previous use of the site and any contamination from lead or automotive products. Soil sampling for nutrients can also be helpful in determining how best to add fertility to your garden. Free nutrient and ph soil sampling is available from the King Conservation District at For info on all other types of soil sampling, contact the Garden Hotline at 206-633-0224 or

3. Be a Part of Cornell University's Bird-watching Program!
I've been counting for this project for years, and find it a lot of fun. Click on the link below if you'd to find out more about it.