There’s a big sloppy footprint of the Old Year left behind in our gardens as we turn toward 2022 and what we might want to set as our goals.
Most of us still have clearing and cleaning to do. Some of our plants are still on the decline, and there are those among us who are still hanging onto hope that those crunchy, crisp branches are somehow going to spring back to life.
Well, gardener, I have some bad news. They’re probably not going to do so. Indian hawthorns’ last remains, crape myrtle tops, Arizona ash skeletons and barkless live oaks are probably going to need your attention sooner rather than later.
These past couple of warm weeks (those days were nice) have given me time to walk through our landscape and make stern assessments of things I’m going to get done in the next several months. You might want to do the same so that you can be talking to nurseries and getting ready to plant when the growers’ trucks start delivering.
Start by removing any plants that were mangled or marred by the February cold 11 months ago. Don’t wait on the Indian hawthorns. They should have been removed and replaced months ago.
If your crape myrtles’ top branches were sparse and lethargic, and especially if the plants produced vigorous shoots from their roots, trim off the old tops clear to the ground. Save 10 or 12 of the strongest and straightest new shoots and let them develop in 2022. By the end of this coming summer thin their numbers down to the final three or five trunks (odd numbers look best) that will be the final framework of your new tree-form crape myrtle. The old stalks were simply too damaged by the cold to survive and thrive. Most crape myrtles didn’t have this problem, but Tuscarora and two or three others did.
Live oaks that lost as much as half or more of their bark may not pull through. If your tree lost big chunks of bark, and if the top growth has become quite sparse, it’s probably time to have it removed. Let a certified arborist inspect the tree and advise you.
And so, the list of plants that didn’t fare so well after the cold grows. But in surveying my own landscape, I’ve decided there also are plenty of other plants that were looking rather tired before that bad winter weather rolled through. It was probably time for some changes anyway, so I’m going to tackle them all at the same time.
I’ll document our own changes in a column sometime in the near future, but I just wanted to set the mind gears in motion for all of us. This is the time that nursery designers have a few more hours in their days. Their lives will get really hectic by early spring.
Go out into your landscape and look critically at each bed — each component shrub or groundcover. Is it still well-shaped and vigorous? Has it been pruned and shaped a few times too many? If so, are most of its leaves up near the tops of the plant? Are its lower limbs bare? Then it’s probably time to start with a fresh, vigorous planting.
I have a bed of dwarf Chinese hollies that’s been a part of our landscape for 45 years. It’s been a loyal servant to my design, but in recent years one or two of the plants have grown thin and lopsided. One has even died and left a bit of a gap. It’s time to change it.
I’ve agonized over making that replacement for a couple of years, but the time has come. I know I’ll feel better once I take the plants out. I’ve already bought the replacements. I have some plumbing work I want to have done before we make the big change, so it’s all about to fall into line.
While I’m doing that I’m going to be putting up a new fence along our county road. Feral hogs found our property several years ago, and in desperation we put up a wire fence to keep them away. It started out unsightly, and in the ensuing three years it’s become downright ugly. It’s easy to overlook “ugly” when it’s right there in front of you every day. (I shave every day.)
Another part of our landscape has developed some drainage issues. I’ll be addressing them, too. I’ll hire a local specialist who will either change the grade to get the water off-site initially or install grates and perforated pipes for a French drain. I’ll see what he suggests. I’ve already set those wheels in motion as well.
You can do much of this work yourself. If you have three or four friends who live nearby, perhaps you could plan to work together to help one another on some of the bigger projects. One Saturday could be for one person’s house, the next for another. You can join to rent necessary equipment to lighten the cost and then have a group party to celebrate the completion.
Perhaps you could even expand this to a neighborhood block party event where you clean up your entire street or neighborhood. Maybe it could be sanctioned by your HOA. Perhaps you even could expand it to clean up at your neighborhood’s school. Talk to the principal. Their staff has probably been stretched thin, too, after the freeze.
Those are thoughts that have been running through my mind. There are so many fun opportunities, and the best months for gardening are just ahead on the calendar.