Friday, January 25, 2013

Getting Your Garden Underway in the New Year

Happy New Year!  It's been a long time since I've posted anything here, so I guess it's no surprise I am late with a new year's greeting! I hope this day finds you well, and that you are enjoying a bit of rain.  What? Yes, I did say enjoy... because 2013 began with only 2.5 inches of rainfall in the first 3 weeks, and though we have picked up close to 1 inch in the past week, we're not likely to get to our average of 5.5 inches in January.  The fog that hung around did not lift our spirits or provide much moisture for plants either... so what does a "dry" January like this mean for our gardens?

  • Plants that are under your home's eaves could be getting dry, especially if they are on the north or northeast side, since most of our November and December winter storms came from the south and west.
  • All plants that are drought-stressed are much more susceptible to freeze-damage than plants that are well-hydrated.  We could have some deep-freezes coming this winter, and lasting well into Feb and March, so if you think your eaves have kept plants dry.
  • If your soil is sandy and well-drained, it may be dry enough to dig in, so if you need to incorporate compost or other organic matter into it, now may be a good time.  How can you tell if your soil is dry enough to dig in?  1. Take a small handful of soil and squeeze it until it sticks together.  2. Poke it with your finger, and if it falls apart, it's ok to dig.  If it sticks together, it's too wet to dig.  This is a good way to test your soil in the springtime too!
  • Check your birdbath in case it's dry and/or getting slimy.  Normally in mid-winter, our birdbaths are filled and overflowing by rain, which helps keep the growth of algae, bacteria, and fungi in check.  Less of "nature's cleaning" mean things can get pretty slimy, which isn't good for birds to drink or bathe in.  No need to use harsh cleaners though- a 50/50 vinegar and water solution works great even in slimy birdbaths. 
If you are thinking of adding plants to your garden this spring, it's time to start some preparation- here are two ways to get great deals on Native Plants:

1. The annual King Conservation District Native Plant Sale of bare-root plants is underway!
King Conservation District offers a variety of bare-root native trees and shrubs at fabulous prices every winter. Bare-root stock which means they do not come in pots or burlap bags, but are harvested from the field in winter when the plants are dormant and ready to be replanted. Bareroot plants are affordable, hardy, have well-developed roots, are easy to handle, transport and plant.
I highly recommend pre-ordering online, as this is the best way to ensure you get what you want. To begin shopping, click here. Plant pickup is on March 1 & 2, 2013.
Order Deadline: February 8, 2013. Quantities are limited and some species may sell out, so best to order asap.

2. The next King Co Native Plant Salvage event is on Saturday Feb 2nd! There are two ways to choose from to help, and get free plants in return:
  • Spend the morning in Black Diamond with other volunteers, digging up trees and shrubs from this site (scheduled for development). These native plants will eventually be replanted to help reduce erosion, shade streams and provide habitat. If you help from 9-12noon, you can then spend the afternoon salvaging FREE plants for yourself!
  • Spend the afternoon in Issaquah with other volunteers, potting up the salvaged plants in the King Co. Native Plant Nursery so they can recuperate before going to habitat restoration sites. You'll receive 2 free plants of your choice for every hour you help with this important task!
  • Click here to download the directions to the salvage site and nursery.
Notes: A parent or guardian must accompany volunteers under 16 years old. Dress for the weather and be prepared to get dirty. Sturdy shoes or boots are recommended. King Co. provides gloves, tools and light refreshments at all their salvage events, and the last event of the year is likely to be on March 2nd.

Thanks to the King County Noxious Weed Control Program for the article below, from the King County Weed News - December 2012
Use patience and soil management to control horsetail.  This creative tip for tackling horsetail, one of the plants I get the most questions about, comes courtesy of a recent newsletter by Wendy Lomme of Akina Designs.  To quote Wendy:

Many of us in western Washington have the pleasure of dealing with Horsetail, otherwise known as Equisetum, in our yards. This plant, which dates back to the dinosaurs, is brilliant at making landscaper's lives miserable and is very difficult to remove. Pulling out, cutting the plant, or digging the roots really only creates more plants. We also know that these plants love dark, murky soil so covering the area with black plastic or mulch really just encourages growth!

The surprising solution to this problem is to fix the soil conditions and wait. Improving drainage, adding lime to help with the pH, waiting, adding fertilizer, waiting some more and being patient is really the only successful solution. It may take a year or more, but with the improved soil conditions, the Horsetail will begin to go away, just like our other Prehistoric friends. (Lomme, 11/14/12)

My next post will contain bare-root and container planting instructions, and other relevant winter gardening tips!