Winter gardening takes on a slower pace than during the summer but still there are many chores one can do on a bright winter day. Some jobs prepare our gardens for the next season and some are simply tending winter crops.
Winter vegetables: Be sure to keep the soil moist in the top six inches. I water mine every week to ten days if there has been no rain. I don’t fertilize my winter crops and there is next to no weeding, but I keep the broccoli, peas, New Zealand Spinach, Swiss chard, and lettuce picked regularly so they will produce more and put off going to seed. My peas are going on six feet tall and I started harvesting them before Christmas this year.
Plant now: Transplant, onions, Swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce and asparagus and rhubarb roots. Bulbs of garlic can still be planted. Seeds of spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale should grow this time of year, but in my experience, I don’t have much luck unless I get them started indoors. If you want to try planting seeds outside, try radishes. They will grow any time of year. Remember, everything grows slower in the winter so have patience.
Garden Equipment: Clean sharpen and oil clippers. Clean soil off shovels, rakes, and if needed, repair, sand and oil wood handles. I love working with good equipment; plus, well cared for tools last longer.
General chores: Clean the garden beds of leaves and any spent plants from the previous summer. Insects and diseases can overwinter in unkempt beds. Spread compost and turn it under in the areas of the garden where you are not growing winter crops. When I work my soil I like to place stepping stones or boards where I stand so as not to compact the soil. By working the beds now, I will be ready to plant as early as possible so I can harvest longer. Speaking of harvesting, I am still picking tomatoes. Even though most of the leaves are dead, much of the fruit is still good. I let it barely start to turn from green to a blush on the vine, and then bring it into the kitchen and place it on the counter. Some of the fruit turns mushy so I throw it away, but most of the fruit gradually ripens and has that great garden taste.
Fruit Trees: If you observed peach leaf curl disease last summer on your apricot, nectarine or peach trees, now is the time to spray with a fixed copper product. For best results apply it three times; Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day but even one application will help.
For other deciduous fruit trees such as apple, pear, and cherry, apply a dormant spray now or a delayed dormant spray after you prune in late January or February. You may not need to spray every year depending on the pests and disease you spot in your trees during the growing season but when you spray, always read labels and follow directions.
Clean up any leaves under the trees and throw them into the compost pile. You will be amazed at how fast they break down when they are mixed in and moistened down. Be sure not to compost any diseased leaves or old fruit. I love having piles of leaves for the compost pile.
Citrus Trees: Protect citrus and avocado trees from the frost by spraying them with either Cloud Cover or Wilt Stop. Both products will give the trees a few more degrees of protection which is sometimes all we need in Benicia. A more aggressive treatment is to place stakes around the tree and drape a sheet or plastic over the stakes. This works well on small trees, but be sure to keep the cover from touching the foliage as the frost will burn it and also be sure to take the cover off during the day especially if you are using plastic. Another option is to cover the trees with a "" material, also called row cover made of breathable fabric. I have good luck using it on my small trees and I don’t have to remove it each day.
For larger trees, place outdoor Christmas lights throughout the branches. It gives the garden a festive look and if the weather is really threatening a freeze you can add a sheet over the top. If you do get some frost damage, be sure NOT to prune it off until after all danger of frost (which is about mid February in Benicia), as the dead branches and leaves protect the plant from further damage. Moist soil helps plants withstand frost, so if it has not rained for a couple weeks, be sure to give your trees a good soaking. If your trees are in barrels or pots it is even more important to water them regularly.
I really enjoy getting out into the garden on sunny winter days. Of course, harvesting is my favorite “chore” but I know getting all the other chores accomplished will add to my enjoyment of my summer garden. We can feel fortunate here in Benicia because, so far, we have had many beautiful days to enjoy our gardens. I hope you are enjoying yours.