Trees in winter
Trees in winter
Happy New Year! And what a totally different year it is! I was re-reading my blog from a year ago, http://www.igrowsonoma.org/blog/garden-dreaming-planning-and-pruning, when the soil was totally saturated from so much rain. This year the soil has been extremely dry in many places for weeks, with very little rain for over 2 months and strong, desiccating winds around a month ago. We may not realize how dry the soil is because it has been so cold, but I’ve been running the drip line in my garden once a week or so and making sure containers are not dry. One good thing about this weather is that we can do garden activities like planting perennials and I was happy to get outside and start pruning fruit trees last week.
The outline of dormant trees dominates much of our local landscapes now. My stepfather loved the silhouette of the Valley oaks around the Laguna de Santa Rosa in winter. Leafless branches plus low light levels puts a spotlight of sorts on the structure of trees and since winter is the best time for planting as well as dormant pruning, this is a great time to focus on trees in our gardens and neighborhoods. Remember when pruning that dormant pruning invigorates, so if you have trees that are already bigger than desired, it’s best to do just a few big cuts each year and manage new growth with summer pruning as well.
We’ve added a new guide to this site, Basic Fruit Tree Planting and Care , a guide to choosing, planting, and maintaining fruit trees, which we hope will be helpful for both planting as well as caring for trees you already have. I’ve been paying more attention to the trees I see in people’s yards and so many are strangled by stakes and ties that are too tight, poorly pruned, or victims of detrimental soil care practices. Trees are such valuable assets in so many ways! Our native oaks used to cover much of the Santa Rosa Plain and provided habitat for a huge diversity of species (as well as food for humans), and there are many other wonderful trees for shade, beauty and food. The right tree in the right place will grow freely and can produce generously for us if we understand its basic needs and how to provide for it. Consider taking advantage of a workshop on pruning fruit trees or talk with one of our great local nurseries about tree planting and care this month.
This is also a good time to add mulch to any bare soil and around fruit trees and other perennials. I can’t understand why people spend their time and money raking up the leaves under trees then bring in bark mulch – or even worse – gravel – to put under the tree. Mother Nature has a very good way of recycling nutrients and organic matter back to trees when their leaves drop and decompose under them. Leaf mold is the very best mulch and food for most trees. With fruit trees and cane berries, where there can be disease spores on the leaves that drop, I like to add a fresh mulch layer of compost over the fallen leaves this time of year. This will help the leaves decompose and prevent the rain (always hopeful), from splashing spores back up to the branches. If tree leaves have fallen on your patio or driveway, these can go under trees or get mixed with your compost. Just remember not to pile any mulch right against the trunk of most trees and perennials. I put a couple inches of compost on top of my asparagus, (which I cut back last week), as well as over the dormant chives.
When you’re not out pruning, planting or mulching, you can be planning this year’s garden. I think “erratic” will continue to define our weather. Words like “adaptation, resilience and change” will be much more common in relation to many aspects of our world. So in addition to keeping good records, if you have space and time, it might be a good idea to try some different varieties and slightly earlier and later planting dates. If your space is very limited, it’s probably best to use reliable varieties, dates and methods, with particular attention to soil care. High amounts of organic material in and on the soil encourages strong plants and helps buffer both floods and droughts.
Best wishes for a healthy and bountiful New Year!