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2006 Seasonal Advice

    January is the time to ...
  • Pick and enjoy many kinds of citrus as needed. The rest will keep on the tree, up until May for the pommelos and kumquats. Navel oranges can dry out as they pass their prime, especially the larger ones, so eat them first.
  • Water as needed. With the short days and several rains we have had, you won't have to water often, but be sure iffy plants are well watered if there is any threat of frost.
  • Get the boxes, old sheets, and blankets ready in case. Make a list of the plants that need extra protection. The first year I was covering plants that liked the cold. Fill you pockets with clip clothespins to help keep marginal plants covered from late afternoon until the threat passes the next morning.
  • Special rolls of frost cloth are available from garden stores and thrifts shops are a good place to get extra sheets. If necessary empty the linen closet and laundry bin.
  • Confess my love of old books. I rediscovered one I had enjoyed decades ago, Old Wives Lore for Gardeners. Here are some ideas to give you either help or a laugh.
  • Perennial weeds, especially the fleshy kind, can be discouraged by letting them grow until they are just ready to bloom. Then pull them and lay them back thickly over the area as mulch. I haven't tried this yet but will.
  • If you aren't sure about small creatures in the garden, one old sod said he was told as a lad: "If it moves slowly enough, step on it: if it doesn't, leave it--it'll probably kill something else."
  • Stubby ropes of horsehair should be wrapped around the base of trees so "neither a slug nor a snail can pass over them without wounding themselves to Death...A shortage of horsehair ropes in this degenerate age need not induce despair: an admirable trap may be made with a little beer in a jam jar laid on its side."
    February is the time to ...
  • Run your lawn mower over your grass even if it hasn't grown much. Many weeds have, and if you let them go to seed, they will multiply.
  • You can dry thin-walled chiles peppers in a warm, dry place such as the top of the refrig, in the oven with at about 140 to 170 degrees and with the door open a few inches to let the moisture out, or in a dehydrator until brittle dry. String small fruits with a needle and thread and enjoy them as decorations as well and flavoring. If meal moths frequent your kitchen, when dried, store peppers in zipper freezer bags in the freezer.
  • All types of chile peppers can be grown in containers. Large Poblano, New Mexico, Anaheim, and most hybrids are best grown in large containers such as a half wine barrel. Grow smaller, more compact ornamental peppers in 10 to 12 inch containers.
    March is the time to ...
  • Clean up from the frost and hope it was the last. Nature did much pruning in that one night and has goaded me to do considerably more. My garden looks quite naked, if you can imagine, and that may well be a great improvement. I don't think I lost anything completely.
  • This is a good chance to make changes in the garden, to get rid of any plants that have not lived up to our expectations or that we just want to replace for a change.
  • We should make notes to remind ourselves of what survived and what looks terrible. If we keep a list of plants to cover or from which to take cuttings when frost threatens, we can save more time, work, worry, and plants. And by noticing which ones, such as the azaleas, were not hurt at all, we can make our gardens more frost resistant.
  • Some of the peskiest weeds, such as the black eyed Susan vine, got zapped pretty good, so this is a good time to clear them out or at least back to controllable spots.
  • Send a request to bbmackey@prodigy.net for a free, nine page illustrated ebook on Gardening in Small Spaces. It will be e-mailed to you in return.
  • Thank God that we didn't have to go through a long, cold winter to enjoy the scenes on her CD.
  • Put the same principles of design, color, form, and texture combinations shown there to use in our own gardens.
  • Remember that for each beloved plant we can't grow here, there are at least ten new choices that we can, and many of them bloom much longer. We'll still always miss the peonies, but it keeps our perspective in balance and our attitude one of gratitude rather than gloom.
    April is the time to ...
  • Water with a hose or from the rainbarrels as needed. Check potted plants, hanging baskets, and newly set plants every day. April and May are always dry months with long sunny days and increasing heat. They are the water crises of the year and definitely make us anticipate and appreciate the rainy season when it comes. But March was also dry and warm this year and I have never seen the soil so dry that water tends to puddle up.
  • Water as deeply as possible when you do water. Most plants need one inch a week. Roses like more.
  • Mulch with leaves, grass cuttings, wood chips, pine needles, all of which you can get free. There are also mulches you can buy by the bagful or the truckload. The only one not recommended is cypress mulch, not because it is not great mulch, but because it destroys valuable trees. Spread mulch 3 to 10 inches deep and add more as it settles.
  • A layer of newspapers under any of the above will make them more effective. I use the newspapers folded and overlap the sections. Spread a small area, about the size of a dining table top, cover it with mulch, and water well to keep it in place. Then cover it with mulch so the newspaper doesn't show. Thereafter, this will cut down of loss of moisture from the soil, reduce weeding, rot into the soil to add humus, encourage earthworms, and greatly improve the soil and the growth of your plants.
    May is the time to ...
  • Put a bucket in the shower to catch that water that is wasted before it gets hot enough. Bring in a bucket and put it by the sink when washing fruits or vegetables. People long ago used little water because they had to carry it all in from the well or the pump. During these dry months I find just the opposite is true now. The hardest part of processing the strawberries we picked was carrying out that water, but it helped keep my container plants going.
  • When you get a leak, fix it or call the plumber right way. One drop a second wastes 200 gallons or water a month, or 2400 gallons a year. This also adds cost to your water and sewer bills and/or strains your septic system.
  • Avoid water toys that take a constant stream of water. If you already have them, use them on the lawn near your favorite tree or planting. The grass will make the play safer and the water will make the grass greener.
  • Get in the habit of listening for running water and satisfying your mind with the source. If you are running water into your pool or running a sprinkler, set an alarm so you won't forget to turn it off before you waste water.
  • Learn how your water meter works and make a game of recording your progress in water saving.
    June is the time to ...
  • Be on the watch for those vining weeds. They are on the march even before the rains come. I'm seeing the first signs of the one I hate most, the air potato. In the church garden skunk vine it trying to crawl up and cover the building. On my shrubs I must constantly control the passion vine and the black-eyed Susan vine. The vining philodendron is getting out of hand also. It is a constant battle but at least I can do some weeding without bending--just stand and pull and pull and pull.
  • If you go on vacation before the rains are reliable, put all your containers--even the sun lovers--in a shady place together while you are gone. Water well before you leave. If you are going to be away more than two or three days, get someone to come in and water at least the containers.
  • Don't plant any new plants for two weeks before you go away. That gives them time to settle. Three weeks would be better but I can't resist that long.
  • Tell you the surest way to make things bloom in your garden is to leave it. I had three large buds of voodoo lily just beginning to open when we went back to Ohio for my sister's 50th anniversary, a family and a class reunion. When we got home, the voodoos were past their prime but still impressive.
  • Also just before we left I found the first ever jaboticabas, large black grapelike fruits in crowds coming right out of one limb of the large bush or small tree I have been watching for about 17 years. I must not have been watching it very well because I missed the long-awaited blooms altogether and was amazed to find the fruits while I was watering just before we left. I wasn't even sure if they were ripe, but I picked some, ate some, and took some along. When we got back the rest had disappeared. It is supposed to have 5 or 6 crops a years, so I'll be watching closely from now on. This was one of the fruits whose limbs we girdled to shock it into fruiting. On this one it worked.
    August is the time to ...
  • Check out any plants with holey leaves. I had a yellow angel trumpet that was glorious with its first flowers a month ago and then suddenly ravaged by slugs that were daring enough to eat by day as well as night. It was just a matter of peeling them off with a stick and squashing them, but they did much damage before I found them. I hate to comfront insects. I tend to look away and hope they will go away, but that doesn't always work.
  • Keep pruning to give plants light and air, especially any that are susceptible to fungal diseases. We've had a lot of rain lately.
  • If you are using honey in cooking instead of sugar, use half as much. Also don't boil honey or you will destroy much of the nutrition and the flavor. For the same reason, don't buy it in the grocery because that has no doubt been processed. Look for raw local honey from the beekeepers or at health food stores or produce stands.
    October is the time to ...
  • Consider this the beginning of the gardening season and a good time to do almost anything. Any day now that rains will stop and the temperatures fall at least a little. Make the most of the mornings if you can.
  • Most of us have weeds that got ahead of us over the summer, especially vines that are trying to cover our shrubs and flowers. Pull relentlessly.
  • You can start seeds of many plants now such as nasturtiums, alyssum, calendula, dill, and arugula. Nurseries already have plants of fall and winter vegetables and will be getting in winter annuals soon.
    November is the time to ...
  • Relax and enjoy the fact that I finally got my garden cleaned up for company and it will take it quite a while for it to overgrow again.
  • Thank everyone who came to the garden open house and especially the good people, including my family, who helped me, especially God who kept me going.
  • Take bouquets from your garden if you are invited out for holiday dinners. When I take bouquets in the car, I always put them in a round vase that will fit in the cup holders. I have expandable cupholders (you can get them at Walmart) since my car was made without the standard one.
  • Buy, plant, and enjoy the winter annuals. Pansies, petunias, snapdragons, alyssum, and others are available at nurseries and garden centers now and will give you bloom for months and months.
  • Avoid some of my mistakes. I have white plastic jugs of fertilizer and/or other garden products that have lost their labels. From now on, I'm going to take a permanent marker and write on the containers what they hold before the labels fade. By then I will have used them enough to know how, or so we hope. Luckily, I use hardly any poisons.
    December is the time to ...
  • If you have pest plants such as oak or golden rain tree seedlings that you can't pull roots and all, cut them at ground level and then cover small stubs with a can, larger ones with black plastic and/or a black pot to keep out the light. This will usually keep them from regrowing, though sometimes it takes removing and cutting back their pale attempts a few times to really kill them.
  • Keep picking roses and other flowers for bouquets, but prune as you pick to keep the plants well-shaped and in bounds.
  • Buy winter bedding plants for instant color, but also plant some seeds of things like nasturtiums, larkspur, bachelor buttons, and wildflowers for spring bloom.
  • I found a fun thing to do with faded roses. Instead of just throwing them on the compost pile, pull the heads apart and sprinkle the petals over you garden path for color and a feeling of luxury.
  • Be sure to check rainfall with either a rain gauge or a tin can. If we get an inch a week, you'll only have to water newly set plants, plants in containers, and roses. If we don't water the rest, we'll have fewer weeds and fungus diseases.