Marin Master Gardeners
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Marin Master Gardeners

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How to care for your garden in the winter

December 1, 2018
Wendy Irving

A change of season in the garden is always exciting, fun … and challenging. We are fortunate to live in a climate that allows us to spend relaxing time in our gardens year-round, but moving into winter requires some additional thought on caring for plants.

Citrus trees

Many of us have citrus trees in our gardens, varieties that have fruit maturing during the winter. If you want to maintain a healthy, productive tree, remove this fruit when ripe. Citrus do not require as much water in the winter, but this does not mean to ignore it. Normal rainfall should be fine to maintain tree health, but if rainfall is minimal or your trees are in containers, you might need to water at least once a month. If leaves are curling and soil feels dry, give your citrus a modest watering. If the weather forecast is for freezing temperatures, make sure your tree is well watered, then cover it to protect it from frost damage. Do not fertilize until February when the weather starts to warm.

Succulents

Succulents such as sempervivum, sedum and delosperma are generally winter hardy, but for many succulents, the combination of too much rain leading to soggy soil and temperatures dropping to freezing is unhealthy. Many members of the Crassulaceae family, such as crassula, echeveria,and aeonium are frost-tender. If you have these types of plants in containers, it is best to bring them indoors if freezing temperatures are predicted. It is generally a good idea when temperatures get colder and rain increases, to at least shelter them under a protective structure or the eves of your home. If you have tender succulents planted in exposed areas, cover them when temperatures drop to freezing, making sure the covering does not touch the plants, and keep them as dry as possible. Do not keep them covered any longer than necessary, since they require good air circulation and sunlight. If you suspect that the soil where you have succulents planted does not drain all that well, amend the soil, adding sand and well-draining organic matter.

Pruning

Wintertime brings some pruning chores. Every plant has a preferred time to be pruned, but luckily, in our climate, pruning at the wrong time is seldom fatal to a plant, although pruning at the right time always achieves a much better result. As a general rule, late winter is the best time to prune summer and fall flowering trees and shrubs, including deciduous and fruit trees. Roses are in this category as well — waiting until any threat of a freeze in gone is ideal. And any time of year is a good time to remove dead or diseased parts of plants.

Growing veggies

Like to try raising vegetables, but think the season has past? Our winters are perfect for cool season vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, beets, spinach, chard, lettuce and salad greens that thrive in our area. Aside from covering certain vegetables in your garden when it gets too cold (lettuces and salad greens come to mind), maintenance of a winter garden is pretty easy. You don’t have to water if winter rains are normal. Weeds don’t grow as fast and can be just cut off at the surface — it is actually best not to pull weeds in wet soil since this can disrupt delicate vegetable root systems. Insects are not as much of a problem during the winter although you do have to keep an eye out for snails and slugs. If you get a late start, seeds that require warmth to germinate can be started indoors. And, good to know, lettuce and salad greens don’t need warmer temperatures to germinate so these plants can be sown all winter long.

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