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January 2020, Week 5

In what can only be considered good news, we have arrived at the last week of January. Hooray! May this long, gray, cloudy, misty, foggy, rainy, icy, snowy and cold month hurry up and get on out of here so we can move on to a new month with, hopefully, more sunny weather, more work in the garden, and the start of the planting season.

Many trees sure are forming visible buds here now and I fear they are going to be blooming too early. This is not an issue for most types of trees, but is a huge issue for fruit trees, and one of the reasons that growing tree fruit is so iffy in our state. Even when you choose varieties with the proper number of chilling hours, you often lose your blossoms and/or young fruit to "late" freezing weather, which isn't necessarily late at just is late in relation to trees that lost their minds (not their fault) and bloomed too early because of erratic winter temperatures. Most years it is the pecan trees that remain the sane, logical old wise plants of the forest, rarely succumbing to the urge to bloom too early, so I tend to watch our native pecan trees carefully to see if they are starting up early. So far, they are not.

I also look at the ground everywhere and see a sea of green, which right now consists of cool-season grasses like poa annua and many broadleaf 'weeds' that aren't all weeds and which are, in fact, wildflowers. There are many, many more of them up, green and growing well this year in our front wildflower meadow than usual due to the warm winter and elsewhere on our property you see it as well....a virtual thick carpet of green that is visible even in our other pastures that still have dry, dormant prairie grasses 3-5' tall because we haven't mowed those pastures yet. We like to leave those standing grasses and forbs for the wildlife all winter. We did mow down the front wildflower meadow in the fall so I could broadcast sow wildflower seeds in it....similar to the way you overseed a lawn with winter rye grass...I overseeded our front wildflower meadow with more wildflower seeds. Usually in the unmowed pastures you don't even notice the small green plants sprouting at the ground in winter and early spring because they are sort of hidden by taller, dormant plants. This year, though, you cannot miss them because everything is so green already. We have had dandelions blooming (and going to seed) since late December. That's not exactly normal every year, but it happens some years. It is important to note that the plants that sprout this early are adapted to erratic weather and generally are not damaged badly by cold, not even by snow, while they still are very small and growing down low to the ground. Does this huge, early green-up mean an early spring is happening? Probably. What it really means is that our winter weather has not consistently stayed cold enough to keep these plants from sprouting, but that sort of warm winter in and of itself often is followed by a warm March, which I guess we could consider an early Spring. I want to caution everyone though that Oklahoma weather is very unpredictable and remind y'all that we have had, in some previous years, nice warm weather in February and March followed by snow and sleet in April, so if you decide to get busy planting early this year, do not plant more than you are willing to cover up and protect.

Late January and early February are a great time to finish pruning chores. You can be doing corrective pruning where limbs, for example, need to be completely removed for various reasons, but also can be doing your regular annual pruning...perhaps shearing back evergreen shrubs a bit to reshape them, pruning fruit trees to maintain their proper bowl-like shape that will facilitate easier harvesting & also removing water sprouts, freeze-damaged tissue, and any dead or damaged branches. Please DO NOT commit crape murder. Also, be judicious with your pruning if you are pruning summer-blooming shrubs because too much pruning can results in less flowering if you are pruning plants that bloom on old wood. With spring-flowering shrubs, you wait for them to bloom this year and then you prune after they've finished blooming. If anyone here grows grapes, please be sure to prune them properly. Proper pruning of grapes mean that you will remove around 80% of the vines. You do this for a very specific reason---grape plants allowed to grow too rampantly have major disease issues caused by poor air flow, so heavy spring pruning is required to control their growth and ensure you get a quality crop of grapes. Down here in southern OK we prune rose bushes in late January and in February. I am not sure of the timing for those of you further north, but wanted to mention that the appropriate time to prune is approaching, even if it is not quite here yet for those of your further north than I am. When you are doing your winter pruning, watch out for signs of scale insects on trees and shrubs. If you want to spray those plants with a preventive horticultural oil (often referred to as dormant oil because it only is used when plants are dormant), now is the time to do that is well.

For anyone dying to add a little cool-season color to their gardens, if you can find transplants of pansies, dianthus, violas, snapdragons, stock and such, you can plant them now, but be prepared to cover up these plants if your temperatures are going down into the 20s at night because that is a bit cold for them, especially if they have just been transplanted and haven't had a chance to harden off to cold weather via prior exposure.

Right now, while we still are in the winter dormant season, is a great time to move any trees or shrubs that need to be transplanted before they begin leafing out for 2020. If you are transplanting something, take as large of a rootball as you can manage to dig up. This also remains a great time to plant bare-root fruit trees, brambles (as soon as you see them in stores), grapevines, roses, and perennial flowers. If you want to plant asparagus crowns, you can do that now as well. I saw the first bags of asparagus crowns in stores last weekend.

The time is approaching when it is possible to begin planting some cool-season plants in the garden, namely potatoes and onions sometime in February if you are further south and, for some folks further north, either later in February or early in March depending on your local conditions.

It is not too early to start seeds indoors for cool-season veggie and herb transplants, and very soon it will be time, at least in some areas, to start seeds of tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants indoors. If you are wanting to grow wildflowers from seeds in flats, be sure to check and verify whether the varieties you are planting need cold stratification in order to germinate. Most of the wildflowers I'm starting from seed this year need anywhere from 30 to 70 days of cold, moist stratification, and mine are stratifying in the garage refrigerator right now....some of them in peat pots in flats, some of them in moist sand in ziplock bags, and some of them in moist coffee filters in ziplock bags. I marked each container with the date the stratification started and with how many days of stratification is needed so that I do not get confused and remove any of them from the refrigerator too early. Unless you are dealing with one of the very slow growing warm season annual flower varieties, it still is too early to start warm season annual flowers indoors. The types of warm-season annuals I'd start indoors now, were I growing these from seed, would be petunias, begonias and angelonia, all of which start out incredibly small after they sprout (the size of the head on a pin) and grow very, very slowly over many weeks before they are large enough to transplant outdoors.

More rain is expected this week. I don't know about any of y'all, but more rain is the last thing we need here. I'm starting to wonder if Love County's rainfall is going to be record-setting for January, although it will not set an official record at our Mesonet station, which was offline for 8-10 days and likely did not properly record all the rain that fell during that time. It is possible it recorded the data but failed to transmit it, or it is possible that the Mesonet station area did not receive nearly as much rain as we got at our house, because their numbers are a lot lower than ours. I know that the Mesonet staff goes back and retrieves/corrects data when they can, but then the totals for the month are marked with an asterisk because some of the data may be more of a scientific guesstimate/estimate than an actual recorded rainfall amount.

So far at our house this year we are growing a huge crop of mud, puddles, and dandelions. Oh, and clouds, fog and mist. We've been raising a bumper crop of cloudy skies down here .There has been a huge lack of sunshine in January and I've really missed the sunshine, which is here today for the second day in a row! What are y'all growing at your house this winter?

Have a great week everybody.


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