Successful results in any
project in the out-of-doors are largely dependent upon cooperating weather
conditions. I do not believe this is new news. Developing a plan of attack for
dealing with whatever lies ahead for you in the garden is a vital key to that
success. Too often plans are made with only optimal weather conditions in mind,
sometimes weather will not be favorable, other times when the weather is
“right” something else comes up. Learning to “play the odds” in your favor will
ensure that your priorities get done and you’re not left with dealing with the
Most projects have a “window of opportunity”, where timing and conditions are best. That is not to say there is not wiggle room on most endeavors in the landscape, however, most winter projects normally come down to having things ready when the weather is agreeable.
The number one overlooked winter project is spraying with dormant oil. Dormant oil is the most beneficial, least hazardous, greatest bang-for-the-buck treatment for smaller trees and shrubbery that any homeowner can do. Dormant oil kills many chewing and sucking pests in the organic garden, including aphids, scale, whiteflies, fruit moths, and all kinds of mites. You can combine dormant oil with good garden hygiene practices, such as removing fallen fruits and foliage, to control many damaging insects.
As a means of pest control, dormant oil’s effectiveness comes from its ability to form a suffocating film over insects and their eggs. This mode of extermination means that harmful chemicals, which can affect humans and wildlife, aren’t necessary.
Newer dormant oils/horticultural oils, are lighter and thinner, which make them evaporate more quickly. This decreases the chances that the dormant oils will damage your trees or shrubs. Nevertheless, some plants are especially sensitive to dormant oil and require alternative pest control methods. Maples, redbuds, hickories, and walnut trees are susceptible to dormant oil damage. You may notice blackened branches or yellowing foliage.
Use dormant oils with caution on evergreen trees and other broadleaf trees like southern magnolia. If you treat these plants, use the lightest oil formulation, apply on a cloudy day, and if soil moisture is in question, water the plant well to reduce foliage stress.
Although you must apply dormant oil during winter, you don’t want to apply the oil on the most frigid days when all insect activity is suspended. Timing can be a little tricky, but if you act on observation rather than by the calendar and apply dormant oil when buds start to swell, but before buds open, this will maximize your insect kill and minimize the possibility of plant damage.
A word of caution: The use of a dormant oil mixture will not only kill, but annihilate, winter annual flowers such as pansies or violas growing under or near plants to be treated. To be spray safely near these, completely cover such tender vegetation before spraying nearby trees and vines with dormant oil.
Spraying of dormant oil should occur on a clear day when the temperatures are expected to remain over 40 degrees F. for at least twenty-four hours. The ideal ranges of temperatures for application are between 40 and 70 degrees F. You should try to avoid applying dormant oil when severe freezing trends are expected in the 3-4 days following application.
Wind is also a problem when spraying anything. This is where checking the weather conditions are most critical. Spray application should be avoided whenever wind conditions exceed 5 m.p.h. You wouldn’t spit into the wind; don’t spray into it either.
Earth work, backfilling, fine grading are projects where winter can effectively stifle. Many a landscape project can be stalled for weeks waiting for sufficiently dry soil conditions to arrive. We have had the good fortune of wonderful rains, a great relief from drought and decreased groundwater levels, but a pain in the-you-know-what for folks trying to spread a load of soil.
Football refers to a fast action play as a bang-bang. When preparing to deal with soil in the winter think: bang-bang. Again find dry conditions that will extend through the time that will be required to get the soil where it is intended, have your help lined up and git-r-done. This may sound obvious, but many a poor soul has been caught with a tri-axle dump truck load of dirt with a two inch rain on it. Use the Boy Scout rule: Be Prepared. If you must receive the soil before you are ready to put in place, have a tarp large enough to completely cover the pile…And Weight It Down…securely. Don’t trust this job to a couple of 2x4 blocks, use many very dense objects. Remember: High winds usually precede the rain. (I prefer using 8” concrete blocks)
With spring rapidly approaching, it is time to get these jobs completed. By doing so, you will be ready to some serious diggin’ as the warm weather of spring arrives!
We’re thinking spring and hope you are too,
p.s. As a special early spring gift, Bates Nursery will give you a free flat of 4” pot pansy plants! That is more than a $20.00 value…free, but you have to ask, one flat per person, no purchase necessary, while supplies last. Get this cold weather color…FREE! We appreciate your loyalty, come see us and get your free flat (that’s 18 – 4” pots) of pansy plants, absolutely free, while supplies last, so hurry!