by Janet Laminack, Denton County Extension Agent-Horticulture
Despite the balmy weather this weekend, it is still the middle of winter. So what do gardeners or “yardeners” do this time of year?
Perennials can be pruned back now, if you can figure out how much needs to be pruned. Some perennials die back to the ground, so you can remove all of that now, like for lantana or Turk’s cap.
However, other perennials will remain evergreen, so those will not need to be pruned such as lavender and rosemary.
Then other perennials will indeed have some dieback, while others may just be ugly-dormant. For these plants, or when in doubt, start trimming at the tip, and stop when you find some green in the branch.
Ornamental grasses can be pruned back, or you can wait a while because they do provide some nice winter interest still. Sometime before March, I would suggest pruning back the ornamental grasses, leaving a height of six inches.
Trees don’t really need to be pruned very often, but it seems to make some people happy to prune them. We do recommend pruning trees if they are damaged or dangerous or the branches are dead. Pruning a tree because it’s too tall or too wide is not recommended. That will be an ongoing battle and you would do better to replace with a tree that will not get bigger than the space you want it in.
Sometimes people want to “limb up” a tree to allow mowing under the tree without losing their heads. This is a good idea. And, sometimes limbing up a tree to allow your house to be seen is also desirable. However, limbing up can be overdone and becomes referred to as “lion’s tail.” If you want to remove a few branches, that’s fine, but limit yourself to only raising the canopy up to 5-6 feet.
Crape myrtles are commonly topped or polled, which is not necessary. They will rebloom without being pruned. Also, pruning them back severely can weaken the tree structure. But, again, if it makes you happy to prune back your crape myrtles, then I think you should stick with it. Life is short.
Are you interested in local food? Why not try growing some of your own food this year? Peaches do well here and that’s actually a tree that does need annual pruning. A win-win for you pruning enthusiasts! Pecans make lovely shade trees and will make the squirrels in your neighborhood very happy. Blackberries are one of the best suited crops for our area. They grow into medium to large shrubs but can have vicious thorns (there are also thornless varieties).
If you are more interested in vegetables, it’s about time to start planting. Many crops can go in mid-February such as lettuce, onion, broccoli and parsley. The Denton County Master Gardeners have put together an informative beginner’s guide to vegetable gardening that you can find under the North Texas Gardening tab on the dcmga.com website.
Additionally, there will be a free class at the Flower Mound Public Library on February 8 at 7 p.m. by Patrick Dickinson on vegetable gardening. Patrick will be back later that month on February 29 to teach about composting. And the series also includes a presentation by Master Gardener Carolyn Tinner entitled “Get Started with Plants! Propagation 101” on February 15. Master Gardener Carol Rowley will present on landscaping with ornamental grasses on February 22. All the details can be found at dcmga.com or by calling 940.349.2883.
Other free gardening classes are coming up at Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center in Denton, which you can find out about through their Facebook page or by calling 940.349.8202.
Winter is also a good time to plan your garden. Colorful seed catalogs coming in the mail are almost as delightful as Christmas cards. Taking the time to make simple bubble diagrams of what plant you want to place where in your landscape is certainly a more reasonable method than just buying one of everything you see at the garden center. Although, the latter method is awfully fun.
But, winter is also a time to rest. Dormancy and lying fallow for a time are beneficial aspects of cultivating plants. We all might do better if we followed the lead of nature a little more. So this season, give yourself the opportunity to take life a little slower.