Monday, February 11, 2008

Winter cleanup

It's brush pickup week, here in my city, the week when the city works your zone picking up all the stuff that you can't put in the trash cans - branches and trimmings from outside, large trash items, the occasional mattress or refrigerator that ends up on the curb. The city is divided into quadrants so they only show up at your door every four weeks, and you'd better get the stuff out there or you will have to look at until March. But not on the curb TOO early, or they gripe. No earlier than the Saturday before your week starts or you can get fined. (where are you supposed to put branches and stuff you've been collecting before your Saturday? Good question. I stack it under a venerable maple tree in my back yard. Very attractive!)

If you have a lot of trees like I do (but far less than when I bought the house - the white pines were sacrificed because if there's an evergreen that makes more of a needle mess, I haven't met it), there are always branches to pick up after storms, or trimming in winter to do when the ornamental trees are dormant.

After I carried all the branches downed by windstorms to the curb I tackled the perennial problem of honeysuckle taking over the bushes. Last week we had a warm spell and a lot of growing stuff tried to wake up prematurely. My japonica actually has some pink blooms peeking out on the almost bare bush. And among those blooms were honeysuckle tendrils valiantly trying to grow through the winter. Now, the main stalk on some of these vines is almost as large as your thumb, and buried deep in the middle of these large bushes, so the best you can do is to start pulling out the vines and cut as low as you can reach. You know it's futile because it will come back, but you try. While you're in there you try to get some of the volunteer hedge sprigs too, which always seem to sprout in the middle of an existing bush. I tried to eradicate the hedge row thirteen years ago but once you have hedge, you will always have hedge somewhere. It has a will to live that's incredible. You'll find sprouts all over your yard. How it got there, who knows.

I also trimmed back the Rose of Sharon and other bushes that were getting too large, and eyed the Crape Myrtle, which in my yard are as large as trees. Too much to get into in one afternoon; it will take the ladder and the whole day to thin out the spriggy tops of them. While I was trimming I kept an eye out for bulbs. Jonquils are sprouting, but I don't have crocus any more; the squirrels dig up and eat the corms, so I just gave up. Jonquil bulbs must not taste good. They also leave my amaryllis alone, thank goodness. They leave the iris alone, too, but those aren't planted in a sunny enough spot and don't bloom much. I really need to move them. I would love tulips but those are too expensive to become squirrel food.

The forsythia in the front yard is way too big, but I will have to wait until it blooms to trim it back. If we have another one of these warm snaps, it may try to bloom, and ruin the spring display. We may also have a spring cold snap like last year, which nipped a lot of the spring blooms, like the dogwood.

We seem to get winter in two doses here any more; it gets cold right after Christmas, then warms up a little, and then winter returns and frostbites all the growth that tried to poke out in the premature spring. It's one of the ways gardening is becoming difficult here. That, and no rain in the summer. We get most of our precipitation in the winter months, and after about May it just doesn't rain. If you don't water, everything dies back or goes dormant. Even the leaves of the large trees like my huge maples are wilted on the top branches. And if you live over the border in Georgia, watering bans are enacted and you have to just let everything die. I try to rescue my azaleas and dogwoods and all my flowers, but the lawn is on its own. Just too expensive. My neighbor had a $200+ water bill for the lawn in one month, and this was a separate water line connection for the outdoors, with no sewer fees added. After that month, I noticed it was getting a little crispy in his back yard.

All this is hard when you really don't have a green thumb, and are just trying to keep your lot from becoming THAT HOUSE on the street, the one with the ugly yard. Thank goodness most of my front foundation plantings are hollies and nandina and pyrocanthus, which you just about can't kill. The front holly bushes were getting too leggy so I trimmed them back until they were literally bare sticks, and they leafed back out. But the holly gets you back. These are armored plants; heavy leather gloves required to handle them. I joke that I don't need a home security system on the front windows, I have holly bushes!

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