The Island Garden
As you've probably noticed, the winter has been unseasonably warm until this week, that is. From a gardener's standpoint, this allows us to get a lot more done. Last Sunday, I spent time pruning the fruit trees. This is another job that will not need to be done in a couple of months when spring is here, and there will be a lot of other work to do. I've also started some seeds for the greenhouse. Note I said for the greenhouse. You do not need to start your outdoor seeds yet. I find that plants such as artichoke, leeks, onions and other plants that take forever to grow can be set in the greenhouse in mid-March, getting a jump on the season. By the time I am ready to set the leeks out, they are the size of a pencil.
Any time your fruit trees are dormant you can prune them. When pruning, try to get the tree to look like your hand, palm upwards with fingers partly extended, sometimes called a vase shape. This allows light into the middle of the tree and helps to increase your harvest. Never prune out more than 25 percent of the tree and approach your pruning systematically. First, cut out broken, diseased, or crossing branches that rub together. Next, prune out the suckers growing up the middle of the tree. These are long straight branches often growing from the cut you made last year. Finally, prune off last year's long growth, leaving three or four buds, the last of which faces outwards. This should leave your tree ready for the season. Don't worry about pruning too much away as long as you don't go over 25 percent. And don't worry about making a mistake, it will only be visible until the tree leafs out, and next year you'll be able to correct it. As soon as the trees are pruned, spray them with dormant oil, but only spray when daytime temperatures are above 50 degrees.
Now is the time to think about your hanging baskets. You will need to lay in supplies and start plants. I generally propagate hanging basket plants such as fuschia, ivy-leaf and scented geraniums, and pelargoniums right now, so when I pot up the baskets in March, I'll have enough plants. I also start seedlings of impatiens, morning glory, snapdragon, and lobelia. These will be nice-sized plants by the time I plant up the hanging baskets. Later, I'll start sweet pea and antirrhinum to help fill other baskets.
In addition to starting seeds, you'll need hanging baskets. I buy 18-inch in diameter, mosslined baskets from a wholesaler to give me 10 or 12 baskets ready for hanging out in mid-May. The larger the basket, the less likely it is to dry out while you are at work, plus you can get a lot more plants into each basket. I also add water soluble crystals and a little longterm fertilizer to the potting soil mix. Make sure you have strong hangers for baskets of this size, as they are very heavy when filled with water. We'll look briefly at propagating indoor plants here, and in a couple of weeks we'll will look at starting flower seeds.
If you have a greenhouse, now is the time to start propagating, as long as you have a propagating heat mat, that is. Flowering indoor plants such as fuschias, geraniums, pelargoniums can easily be propagated.
At this time of year, fuschias benefit from being cut back hard. In fact, I cut my greenhouse plants back to the roots. It stops them from growing leggy and gets the new growth to flower early. Use the freshly cut tips to grow new plants. All you need do is look for a red (new wood) tip with two or four leaves. Snip this tip off and dip it in rooting hormone powder. Push the tip into a mix of 50 percent potting soil and 50 percent sand and apply a gentle heat under the pot. I use a germinating mat, but you can put the pot in a sunny window, or in a spot that stays about 70 degrees. You'll find that the tips will root in about four weeks. You can make tip cuttings of ivy leafed geraniums and regular geraniums as well. When you are making cuttings make sure you add a few to give to the garden club for its annual plant sale in May.