Right Plant, Right Place
Winter months give us time to dream and research what we will plant in the coming seasons. However, research is the important word for a successful garden.
Start with a sketch of your space then answer some of the following questions:
- How much sun is there during the growing season?
- Have you considered shade from deciduous trees, nearby buildings and fences?
- From what direction is the prevailing wind?
- Are there protected areas created by structures?
- Is there standing water during wet months?
- Will nearby plants crowd your new addition or will your addition soon outgrow its space?
- Is the soil amenable to the selected plants?
- Will the house overhang prevent rain from reaching plants there?
This information guides your choice of plants. Read the plant tag, as well as written and online resources, to get the scoop on what your prospective addition needs to grow well. And be sure to research the specific variety you are considering, as cultural needs can vary within species.
One focus should be the soil. Soil tests will reveal the pH of your chosen site and can be critical for certain plants. Also important is soil moisture. Some plants need quick draining soil or they get root rot or simply don’t thrive. If you are planting under a large, well established tree, you will be fighting a lot of roots that will also suck moisture out of the soil around your new plant.
What is the light requirement for your plant? While full sun is good for many plants, others need filtered or full shade.
Look for microclimates on your property such as sun or shade pockets or areas shielded from wind. Then pick the perfect plant to reside there.
- Wake up any stored fuchsias and geraniums by pinching back spindly stems, water with warm water, and move closer to indirect light.
- Pull or hoe annual weeds.
- Cut your deciduous ornamental grasses back by the end of the month.
Rejuvenating Holiday Plants
Poinsettias can be grown as attractive green plants after the holidays, but many steps are needed for your plant to bloom again next holiday season. You will need to keep it well-watered and in a bright window – or outside during warmer weather – until the Fall Solstice. Then it will need a regimen of uninterrupted darkness with periods of bright light for two months. This will prevent the poinsettia from producing chlorophyll, which makes plant parts green, and allow its bracts to change to red, pink or white, depending on the variety. For more details on how to proceed, click here.
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) can also be rejuvenated post bloom by fertilizing, watering and placement in a sunny window, followed by a resting period. Learn more here.
- As bare root roses will begin to arrive in nurseries in January and February, now is the time to assess good planting sites in your garden for your new purchases. Make sure the site has good drainage as roses don’t like damp feet in winter months. It should also have at least 6-8 hours of sun per day and be large enough to enable adequate air circulation between plants, to help prevent disease.
- The drooping leaves on your rhododendrons during our very cold days is simply the plants’ defense against adverse conditions. Leave any browned foliage on them and your other shrubs if its firmly attached. Stripping it off might incentivize them to begin new growth.
- When spring bulb foliage emerges from the ground, it will appreciate some 5-10-5 fertilizer.
Part of being a gardener is problem solving – a common focus being what agent or agents are impacting your plants. Are they being eaten by pests, do they have a fungus, are they affected by drought? Answers to these questions and others can be found by submitting them to our local Master Gardener Diagnostic Plant Clinic or at an Ask A Master Gardener table. But there are also many problem-solving tools available online from universities across the nation. These provide research-based information on how to recognize whether the symptoms you are observing are caused by the environment, disease agents, or pests, and how to mitigate them.
WSU Hortsense: Fact sheets for managing many common landscape and garden plant problems
WSU Gardening in Washington State: Free publications on all aspects of gardening
- Intermittent freezing and thawing of the soil during winter months can heave perennial plants out of the soil, baring their roots. A layer of mulch, 2 to 3 inches deep, will help prevent this. You can even add your Christmas greens and tree branches.
- Don’t keep your live Christmas tree indoors more than ten days and be sure to keep it moist.
- If applying dormant spray to your fruit trees, don’t spray when the temperature is below 40o, when it has rained in the past 36 hours, or if rain is expected in the next 24 hours.