Patty McHugh

“The purpose of a kinked garden hose is to make you stop, look at the world around you, and waste precious time.” Steve Bender, The Grumpy Gardener
THIS MONTH IN THE GARDEN
We had a string of balmy days in January that made many of us start thinking of the garden and planting time. It is NOT. It’s still winter, and while there are some plants than can be planted in the winter, there are many more than can’t. So, continue to mull over what you may want to add to your garden this year, but unless you’re sure, just don’t act on it yet. Take your cue from what plants are available in the nurseries.
• Complete winter pruning of deciduous trees, shrubs, vines, fruit trees and roses. Apply a second application of dormant spray. I like Neem oil since it can kill insects at varying stages and can be used as a dormant-season application to kill overwinter pests and eggs, or as a foliar spray later in the season to repel and kill insects. It’s an all-season spray and it’s organic and biodegradable, as well as readily available (albeit a bit funky-smelling).
• Repeat: This is an excellent month to plant azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias. These plants bloom while dormant so when they are budding (February) and blooming (March) is the best time to plant them.
• Cut back to a few inches any remaining grasses. It won’t be long before new shoots appear, if they haven’t already. You don’t want to cut those off.
• In the vegetable garden, sow directly spinach, radishes, turnips, peas, beets and Asian greens. Start indoors seeds of onion, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, leeks (or, like me, just wait and buy them when you see them at the nursey).

PLANTS AND PETS
We haven’t talked much on this subject but it’s definitely something that needs to be considered when adding new plants to your garden. There are a fair number of plants that are toxic to pets but, for the most part, don’t look palatable to animals, or just don’t taste good, so pets tend to ignore them. There are plants, however, that are quite deadly and should never be planted, or should be removed if you have [curious] pets. These tend to be plants that produce a berry, fruit seed, nut or flower that look tasty to animals. Follows is a list of some plants that, if ingested, are capable of severely sickening or killing pets: Chinaberry, Foxglove, Heavenly Bamboo, Lilies (just cats), Milkweed, Sago Palm [female] and Yew. And worst of all is the Castor Bean – all parts are toxic but seeds contain ricin, a natural poison 6,000 times more powerful than cyanide. Fortunately, it’s not likely this plant is growing in your yard as it is an annual in climates where temperatures reach 32° F or below. At least you’ll know if you see it in the nursery somewhere – avoid it like the plague.

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