We have had a relatively mild winter but it has been a very tough winter on many of our trees, shrubs and other plant materials. The two hard cold fronts that dropped into single digits occurred while most of the state was very dry. Unless you had been watering your outdoor plants before these really hard freezes, these cold blasts caused more damage than usual as it froze hard on these dehydrated and already water stressed plants. Many of our broad leaved shrubs including many varieties of euonymus, boxwood, photinia and hollies literally had some of their outer canopy foliage and the foliage most exposed to the warming south sun light during the cold ‘freeze –dried”. Many of these broad leaf shrubs that were not watered well before the arctic blasts will lose some or even a lot of existing foliage. Please let this be a lesson to water your trees and especially shrubs periodically through the winter when we are really dry and nature is not providing us adequate periodic rain, snow, sleet or the dreaded ice which all give us natural moisture.

Most of these trees and shrubs will survive but many on the south side of the house or in the open will show some freeze burn and damage and may require some trimming and shaping this spring when you can really assess the damage.

The days are already well over thirty minutes a day longer than they were just a month ago and the sun is growing more intense as it moves gradually to the north and more overhead to us. The extended warmer weather of the last couple of weeks is already causing the buds to swell on many of our trees and shrubs. Spring will be here soon. I have even seen a few daffodils bloom already that were in protected sunny areas. We can and should prune many of our trees and shrubs to remove dead branches and to remove storm damage as well as to shape the plants. We can take advantage of the nice days to prepare our soil in new or existing flower beds to get ready for spring planting. In a couple of weeks it will be time to begin our vegetable gardens by planting our cool season crops like seed potatoes, onion plants, onion sets, cabbage, cauliflower, leaf and head lettuce, green peas, Swiss chard, kohlrabi, carrots, turnips and spinach. For central and northern Oklahoma we usually suggest planting these cool season crops between the middle of February and the middle of March. A good way to remember this cool season vegetable planting is to plant between Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. It is easy to get anxious on the nice sunny, pretty days of winter but do not plant the warm season plants too early or you will get to buy them or plant them again. Spend the next couple of weeks getting your beds ready and then you have the month long target to plant cool season crops and we should wait until April to start planting the tender “freeze sensitive” warm crops.

It will also be time to start thinking about pre-emergent control of crabgrass, sand burrs and other summer weeds in the next few weeks. There are many good weed “birth control” products available to apply alone or in combination with a fertilizer as a weed and feed treatment. Most of these herbicides last and kill seeds as they germinate for four to eight weeks after they are applied. We don’t want to apply too early and miss a lot of their effect but we don’t want to apply the pre-emergent summer weed control too late when many of these weeds have already germinated. For best effect apply at about the time the beautiful yellow flowers of the forsythia flowering shrub are blooming in your neighborhood. We will talk more about the pre-emergent herbicides in our next column.

Take advantage of any pretty winter days to clean up your gardens, prepare the soil and to get ready for spring planting. Spring is coming!

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