Now Is The Time To RUP

As tempting as it might be to get out in your yard and start chopping, please resist the urge to prune (RUP) for now.

The several days of hard freezes in December, and winter weather in general, had an impact on yards and gardens throughout Marion County. Shrubs are shriveled and brown, leaves have fallen, bare branches are everywhere, all making gardeners so, so sad! I know you really, really want to get outside and start cleaning up, pruners and loppers in hand, but let me tell you—please don’t.

Instead—RUP. Resist the Urge to Prune. 

Please wait, because this time of year we can have more frosts and possibly more hard freezes. Typically, we have a last frost in mid to late March so there’s real danger in pruning anything now. Pruning prompts new growth and if you prune now, you’ll likely be watching those sweet, little new leaves get fried in the next cold snap. I confess I’ve killed poor, innocent tender, new growth by pruning too soon, and I regret it.

The UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Service suggests, “…freeze damage should not be pruned back until you see new growth emerging later in the spring. If it is possible to postpone clipping the plant back, try to hold off until at least March.”

Instead, use this time to replenish your soil. Feed the soil, not the plant, is a well-known adage in gardening, and it’s a valuable tip. You can rake up dead leaves and add them to your beds. You can do “trench composting” by working in vegetable cuttings, coffee grounds, eggshells and other compostables to help your garden next season. (I just dig a hole where I want to enhance the soil, dump in my coffee can of “goodies” and cover it up. I suspect my neighbors think I’m a little odd.) 

Also, unlike up north, springtime often brings lots of leaf drop around here and your neighbors may even helpfully(!) put those wonderful leaves into convenient bags and leave them at the end of the driveway. One of my neighbors is kind enough to roll three to four of those big garbage cans of his leaves over to my yard every year. He doesn’t want them, I do, and it’s a good deal for both of us.

In addition to leaves and dead vegetation, coffee grounds are a great way to add moisture, nutrients and acid to your soil. Many area coffee shops will give you coffee grounds if you ask and I’ve gotten 20 to 30 pounds of grounds from several in town. Bonus: it makes your car smell great for a couple days afterward!

Another way to benefit your garden this time of year is to plan what you want to move, change or add in your garden beds. If you’re doing vegetables, you might even be ambitious enough to start seedlings inside. You can work out which plants or seeds will go where and review how the varieties did for you last year. I remember eagerly planting Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes one year. But, after only harvesting six tomatoes, I decided they weren’t worth the effort. Knowing what works in this area is key to success, so don’t let those sexy seed catalogs entice you into making bad gardening decisions. 

For transplanting, late February and March is often a good time to move plants as they’re mostly dormant. It’s not as much stress on them because they won’t be actively growing or putting out energy for new leaves and flowers at this time. 

First, prep the new place. Dig down and out about twice as large as the root ball. I always water the surrounding soil thoroughly so when it’s time to water in the shrub, the water will stay near the roots instead of moving out into the surrounding soil. Add a light amount of organic fertilizer and compost, maybe some fresh garden soil, too. Then place the new bush, water in, tamp down lightly to get out any air bubbles and add more soil as needed. 

For large shrubs, do a root prune about two weeks before the big move. This means digging down around the roots at the drip line and cutting off the tips to prep for moving day. Get your sheet or burlap ready to carry/drag the bush or, if it’s small enough, you can put it in a wheelbarrow. 

So, put down those pruners or loppers for now. Take this time instead to enjoy the stark beauty of our North Florida winter landscapes as you make plans for the spring. OS

A native Floridian and lifelong gardener, Belea spends her time off fostering cats and collecting caladiums. You can send gardening questions or column suggestions to her at belea@magnoliamediaco.com

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