SEATTLE — Seattle gardening expert Ciscoe Morris says the new year is a good time to accomplish some chores in the garden. If you do these four things he says your plants will stay healthy and your garden will look great come spring.
- Prune suckers growing from the base of grafted trees. Ciscoe showed us his contorted filbert, with curled branches. “I love the living tweedle out of this but it has a problem. This is on a graft, so the contorted branches up here are the ones we want, but if you see straight ones coming out of the ground, they're coming from below the graft.” Ciscoe said any branches that grow from the base of a grafted plant need to be pruned. “If you don't cut ‘em off they could take over the plant and kill the one on top. So I have to get rid of them! Just cut them as close as you can and don’t put this job off, because every year those suckers get bigger, and eventually you won’t be able to prune them.”
- Clear dead and diseased growth. Ciscoe has a Lenten rose, a winter flowering plant also known as a hellebore, with brown spots on last year’s growth. “You wanna cut those leaves off, but you don't wanna do it till you see new growth start, there's new growth in there so it's time to start cuttin'. Not only will this help prevent disease from hitting the plant, but it will also make the flowers stand out and look a lot better.”
- Bundle up fragile plants. “This is Phormium 'Guardsman' and it looks spectacular now, but if we get really cold weather it will turn to mush if we don't cover it,” Ciscoe said, pointing to a plant with red spiky leaves. He pounded three long stakes in the ground around the plant and covered the stakes — and the plant — with an old sheet. He said the stakes are important to keep the weight of the sheet off the plant, since covers can get heavy in snow or rain and destroy the plant they’re meant to protect.
- Get rid of dead dahlias and protect tubers from rot. “'So look at this plant. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Who wants to live with this ugliness in your garden all winter long? So it's time to get it outta here. By the way this is a dahlia,” Ciscoe said, pointing to a withered brown slimy bunch of stems and leaves languishing in his garden. After he cut the dead growth he pointed something out, “You're gonna notice these stems are hollow. Dahlias almost never freeze to death in our climate anymore, but all that rain we get rots ‘em.” Ciscoe has a solution for keeping water out of those hollow stems and away from the dahlia tubers buried underground, where they can remain over winter in the Pacific Northwest. He uses fern fronds to protect the tubers. “Fern fronds are water repellent, you put them on there it lets just enough water through to keep ‘em alive, but it keeps them from rotting, so cover all those hollow stems with fronds you’ve pruned, and don't forget to put a rock on top otherwise they may blow off in the wind!”