By Evelyn Alemanni
Bitterly cold winters are a foreign concept in Southern California. True, we may get a few nights of frost, but high temperatures in mid-January are more likely to be in the 70s and 80s. California winters are also when we typically get sought-after rains.
So winter gardening chores include cleanup, pruning, mulching, and buying seeds. Winter, particularly the end of December through the end of January, is a good time to purchase bare-root plants, including roses, fruit trees, and berries.
To promote a healthy garden, this is a great time to do a big cleanup. Remove old leaves and debris from all your beds. Compost the materials, if you can, to build quality soil amendments for later use. If you have a compost pile, check it to see whether it has material you can use to mulch your garden.
Good to Know: After the cleanup you can apply a 3- to 4-in layer of mulch around your plants, leaving a clearance of several inches between mulch and plant stems. Mulch is invaluable for holding moisture in the ground, saving you lots of money on your water bill.
And speaking of water, winter is the right time to clean your rain gutters and be sure rain reaches your rain barrels, so you can capture all that free water falling from the sky this time of year.
Good to Know: To prevent mosquito breeding, check that all seals on your rain barrels are tight. (Yes, mosquitos breed even in winter in our climate.) To deter the pests, add a mosquito dunk ring to each rain barrel. They hurt the mosquitoes but not your plants.
Most plants don’t need to be fertilized right now because you don’t want to encourage growth if there’s a chance frost would kill off tender new shoots. The exception is citrus, which bears wonderful fruit this time of year and benefits from a January feeding to promote blooms in spring.
Pruning is another winter project. Traditionally I prune my roses (all 150!) during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, although if necessary, I could delay this task a few weeks. It’s good to have the pruning completed before new growth appears on the bushes.
You also can prune fruit trees, such as apple, apricots, and cherries, in winter. Be sure to cut off any dead wood, crossing branches and thin, old, or spindly wood so your trees can produce as much fruit as possible. After pruning roses and fruit trees, remove any old foliage, then spray with horticultural oil to help prevent disease and kill overwintering insects.
The end of December and beginning of January is a great time to start planting bare-root roses, fruit trees, and berry plants. They start rooting and are ready to leaf out when days become longer and soil temperatures rise.
If you enjoy winter vegetables, now is the time to plant lettuces of all kinds, plus cabbages, cauliflower, kale, and broccoli.
Flowers to enjoy in the winter garden include cyclamens, primroses, Bacopas, alyssums, geraniums, poinsettias, and, of course, all the succulents that bloom during this season.
So although all the garden tasks on your list mean you don’t rest from gardening, as your cold-climate friends do, you’re well on your way to a splendid spring and summer garden.