BHCA spoke with C. J. Crockett, a landscape designer with 17 years of experience working with the microclimates of Naples, Belmont Shore, and our beloved Heights. She owns House to Home Landscape Design. Here’s her advice for us:
Do you want to encourage the growth of lush green foliage? Choose a fertilizer with a higher proportion of nitrogen.Do you want the plant to flower or fruit? Choose one with a higher proportion of phosphorous.Does your plant need a good root foundation? Potassium and phosphorous also help plants grow healthy roots. So in the winter, it can be a good idea to switch to a formula like 3-10-10.
The other common mistake home gardeners make is that they don’t cut off all the foliage on their rose bushes. The goal is to be left with bare rootstock and canes or stems. Why cut off all those leaves? Well, on the undersides of those leaves you will find microscopic mold spores and aphid eggs that are just waiting for warmer weather. Cut them off and you’ve got a healthier plant come spring.
Once all that foliage is off, you should coat the plant with neem or horticultural oil to make it harder for insects, spores, etc., to get a grip on your roses.Crockett recommends fertilizing your roses after you trim them.
This is also a good time to trim Japanese Maples and fruit trees -- especially figs, pomegranates, and stone fruits like peaches and plums.
Just like your rose bushes, opening up the center of the tree encourages air flow. Take out any cross branches and once you’re done, spray the tree with neem or other horticultural oil.
She also notes that Long Beach gardeners have been having problems with scale. Scale is caused by insects but often looks like a plant disease. It can look like a bumpy rash on your trees. Her solution: Coat your trees with neem or another horticultural oil once every other week until the weather warms up. It sounds like a lot of neem, but you can buy the oil as a concentrate, or dilute it yourself, then fill up a gallon sprayer.
Crockett also recommends waiting until you see the first buds on your trees before you start fertilizing them again. So, how should you fertilize?
Most gardeners know that the fertilizers they put on their plants contain a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. When you grab a bag of fertilizer off the shelf, it has three numbers to indicate the proportion of each element (e.g., 10-20-10).
But many home gardeners forget that we should choose our fertilizers based on what we want to accomplish.
Do you want to encourage the growth of lush green foliage? Choose a fertilizer with a higher proportion of nitrogen.Do you want the plant to flower or fruit? Choose one with a higher proportion of phosphorous. Does your plant need a good root foundation? Potassium and phosphorous also help plants grow healthy roots. So in the winter, it can be a good idea to switch to a formula like 3-10-10.
If you’re not sure what to use on your particular plants, you can seek the advice of the knowledgeable staff at Armstrong Garden Centers on 10th or H&H Nursery out in Lakewood. Crockett recommends both places for the expertise of their staff, and she notes that H&H has a huge selection of plants.
Watering and Weeding in the Winter
Last, winter is the time of year when we usually don’t have to worry about watering our gardens because it rains. Rain contains all kinds of micronutrients and minerals that help our plants grow and also opens up our clay-heavy soil that so easily compacts.
The winter is also when we get the most weeds--especially right after a good, soaking rain. Many home gardeners jump into their gardens when the rain stops to start weeding, but we need to wait for the ground to dry out before we do that, or we’re reversing all of the good work the rain has done.
If you want to improve your clayey soil, you can dig in some powdered gypsum and wait for the rains to wash it even deeper into the ground. This will help open up the soil and make it easier for your plants to put down roots. Just make sure the ground is completely dry before you do this.
The winter is also a good time to upgrade your irrigation controller. Don’t be the gardener that’s watering while it’s raining – turn off your irrigation system or change the settings. If the controller is too hard to use, get a new one – even a cheap off-the-shelf version will be an improvement over one that was installed years ago.