Soak Soil, Mulch, and Don’t Water Until Spring

leaf mulch

leaf mulch

There are years when – with evenly spaced rainfall and cool winter temperatures – it is possible to stop watering a Valley garden in early December and completely forget about hoses until late March or early April. This year is different.
It has been dry and unusually warm. You feel you should soak everything down to its roots, yet when you do, the water just sits there. The problem is that the plants think it is winter. Many are dormant and may all but shut down physiologically.
Whether the soil is dry or wet, roots may be disinclined to take up water. If you get over-enthusiastic about watering, you could easily saturate the soil, excluding oxygen from the roots. In waterlogged soil, roots can suffocate and die.
One solution is to mulch the garden – if you have not done so. Prior to mulching, water well and you will probably not have to water again for several weeks. Mulch with straw, nitrogen-enriched sawdust or with compost. If you do not mulch, it would be wiser to err on the side of less, rather than more, water in the garden.
At this time of year, one watering a week should be sufficient for even the most water-needy plants. Before you winter prune your roses, make sure they have experienced complete dormancy, however briefly. Remove all foliage from your rose bushes and let them just sit there for a while. It would be wise to make sure we were experiencing a few days of wintry weather before leaf removal. If foliage was plucked off during a warm spell, new leaves could quickly sprout and be exposed to cold damage should a sudden frost occur. When you do prune, cut the canes back to within 18 inches of ground level.
Prune deciduous fruit trees to ensure quality fruit next spring and summer. Failure to prune sufficiently could explain what happened to Jacob Shaya of West Hills, who wrote that “the fruit I got from my ‘Black Mission’ fig tree this year was not as sweet as every other year. My tree is quite mature, about 8 years old, and looks healthy.”
Betty Jane Kadlecik-Yates of Sherman Oaks has sweet and abundant fruit on her two fig trees, which are about 50 years old. “We prune our trees severely,” she wrote, “leaving only two buds per shoot. We cut back any limbs that have grown too far out or are crossing. We also prune out any suckers or small, nonproducing branches as the year progresses.”
Insipid fruit can also result when a tree gets too much shade. You plant a fruit tree in full sun and, a few years later, trees around it have grown taller and your fruit tree is now in partial sun. Fruit trees growing in reduced light are often quite healthy and show off lush leaves. However, less light also means less sugar which, in fruit trees, means you harvest a bland crop.
Montrose resident Mike DeSantis laments his inability to grow mango trees. “I have started several mango trees – from seeds in store-bought mangoes – that grew to about 30 inches tall and then died. My soil is sandy, and I have peach, nectarine, grape, loquat, fig, plum and many other types that are all doing fine. Why can’t I grow mangoes?”
Mangoes are a tropical fruit and not really meant for your moderately cold winter climate. However, you might succeed in growing them in a protected location – next to a south-facing wall, perhaps. Still, your sandy soil presents a problem. Mangoes crave an evenly moist soil, which means you will have to water them more often than the rest of the trees and vines that you mention.

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