Winter pruning – with the essentials.

Alright! It’s finally time to prune for the winter (in the Bay Area, that is). I have purposefully waited an extra 3-4 weeks longer then I normally would for pruning in my garden, due to the weather patterns displayed over the past few years. I figure cutting back later, then earlier, is always best (since I’m not dealing with fruit trees this year). It used to be you can set your clock to when it was rose pruning time – but not lately. What a fucked up few years we have had, as far as the weather and gardens are concerned. About 3 years ago we had 72 degree weather within four days of a frost (and not a bullshit permafrost, a real frost). About two years ago we entered a severe drought in California, that is still going on now. This winter, we are well in the depths of El Nino, with rain storms passing through the entire Coastside and beyond. My perfectly amended and composted garden soil is soggy and starting to carpet with dark green moss – not a hospitable site for most perennials.

WTF, is the theme in my garden.

My garden survived the severe and random weather fairly well, especially for a lot of it being planted containers. The roses are mostly all alive and happy, some of my moss completely pooped out, and the succulents are roughy 75% happy. Some echeveria died, the clematis doesn’t know which end is up, and I have yet to prune my ‘Sally Holmes’ climbing rose because it’s a tangled mess and I don’t feel like getting the ladder out. All in all though, the garden is growing, and I just need to stop procrastinating figure out where to start pruning. A good podcast and an even better glass of mimosa (or three) really helps.

Recipe for a good morning of gardening

3/4 glass of Domaine Carneros (yes, a CA sparkling, methode champenoise, but lovely.)

1/4 glass of organic orange juice – maybe a splash of pineapple or St. Germain.

Topped with a frozen (as in, you grew them and froze them yourself, duh) black, blue or straw berry. A study sprig of mint adds lovely flavor, albeit a bit cumbersome to drink along side. Muddled ‘Alpine’ strawberries are amazing in this as well. (I grow ‘Alpine’ strawberries strictly for accompanying cocktail consumption. Dedicated planting bed and all.)

If you are not fancy, a small mason jar will do wonderfully – but chilled in the freezer for about 20 minutes prior. We’re not animals, for god’s sake.

Here is my list of favorite podcasts to garden to

The Horror – get scared (well, not really).

Women of the Hour – get informed (and feel yummy).

Kamau Right Now – get angry (and laugh).

Ted Radio Hour – get inspired (and amazed – or feel like you’ve done nothing with your life).

The Classic Tales Podcast – get historic (storytelling at its finest).

The Herbal Highway – get mellow (with a big dose of hippy).

Here is my list of perennials that I am tending to today in the garden

  • Roses (too many to list) – this year I’m cutting them back about 4″ lower then I did last year. For the large established ‘Benjamin Britten’ this means they will stand about 3.5′ tall when I finish (they are established and east facing so I give them more height).
  • Heliotrope – no pruning. This is the only plant I have ever come across that doesn’t respond well to pruning or even dead-heading.
  • Salvia – clipped to about 2′ from the ground.
  • Mint – clipped completely to the ground.
  • Succulents – no clipping, just cleaning the dead leaves and some division. If the clump is too dense to twist the succulent heads apart, I use my felcos to cut off a main head to get to the rest – otherwise I never use my clippers in succulent dividing, pulling away is best, I find.
  • Annuals that are treated as Perennials – like borage, cerinthe, etc. – these are just pulled and fed to the chickens when they start to decline.
  • Boxwood – rounded and then thinned in the middle.
  • Grasses – all except for Stipa ichu are clipped to about 3-4″ from the ground. I find that in the summer I can go lower (if it’s an emergency and you have to prune in the spring or summer), but in the winter if I prune lower they tend to rot. Stipa ichu (or any stipa) should not be pruned. I suggest taking an old hair brush and brushing the old blades clean out of the plant – never pruning them. If you pull them with your hands you are likely to get little, painful cuts on your fingers.
  • Gunnera – this beast needs no pruning, since it crunches down to its growing mass when the temp dips below 50 degrees. Easy.

There’s more of course, but this is what I’m working on today. I find that I like to make time for a full clean-up after I have done any pruning, because why do the pruning if you can’t see the nice details of a clean-up afterwards. I prune the roses and weed around the base, being sure to rake my gloved finger tips around the crown to remove any old leaves or stem debris. I take all of the lovely detritus and either compost it or feed it to the chickens. Mostly, they enjoy scratching around the fresh, wet piles of leaves as an act of habit more then actual feeding. When I’m done, my favorite task is to walk the paths of my garden with my hand broom to sweep away any scattered soil and leaf bits. That final touch of a winter pruning can be the most gratifying.

Are you getting down in the garden today – or is it snowing for you? Comment below each weed pulled and branch clipped. Have you pruned yet, or are you waiting?

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