I can't think of anything that is more satisfying in the garden than looking at a freshly mulched flower bed (primarily because a freshly weeded flower bed is a whole lot more work!). I know that the act of putting down mulch is going to save me a lot of weeding and watering later on, so the sore back and dirty fingernails are totally worth the work.
Late winter is a slow time in the garden. The trees and shrubs are dormant, nothing is actively growing, there are no insects attacking our plants, and no lawn to mow. We may have sown some seeds, but they require only a little daily attention while we wait for the warm weather to return.
During the winter, our work is on pause, and our minds have time to think and plan for the next growing season. If we're really smart, organized gardeners, we take that pause and review the records we kept during the previous gardening season. We evaluate the things we planted, how they performed, and how much work they were to maintain. We determine what was worth the work and expense we put into it, and what was a waste of resources.
We make the decisions about what plants to grow more of, what plants need to be moved to a better location or removed entirely, and which plants were so rewarding that we want to grow more of them. We evaluate which projects are worthy of going on the To-Do list this year, and which ones can wait.
Winter is the season during which we also evaluate our trees and shrubs and prune them. We know that when we prune, we will see a temporary halt to growth, and we may even be sacrificing a season's blooms or fruit. But if we do it right, in the long term we are left with a stronger, more attractive and more productive plant. The decisions we make on pruning day will affect how our garden looks and performs for months and even years to come.
Winter is also the season during which we finally find the time to read those back issues of gardening magazines, read that ebook or watch those YouTube tutorials we've been meaning to get to. We have the gift of time to work on ourselves as gardeners, instead of in the garden.
Many small businesses today have been abruptly plunged into winter. The sky may be overcast, and the wind may be howling outside, but we know that sooner or later, spring must come. Will we take the time to learn from last summer's triumphs and failures, trim away the dead wood, and be ready when it's time to plant?
I was sorting through my flower photos from the 2019 gardening season, looking for shade-lovers to share today. All I could find were photos of my hydrangeas.
The largest hydrangea in each of the photos in this collage, is the same flower! The top left photo was taken in early June, 2019, and the one on the bottom right was taken in late August, 2019. Here it is January of 2020, and the dried-out blossoms are still on the bush.
Hydrangeas aren't cheap to buy, but when you take into account how long the blooms last (months!), and how long the plant lives (years) I'd say they give you a very good return on your investment.
One of the many reasons that I love living in the Ozarks, is that I can grow mophead hydrangeas here. They love the mild winters and wet weather. The only challenge I have with them is finding shady spots that aren't too close to the remaining black walnut trees.
In 2018 and 2019, I filled all of those spots with as many hydrangeas (and hostas, and bleeding hearts) as they would hold. Most of them, especially in 2019, were purchased on clearance. They are all planted under the eaves of the tea room and its' garage, and we don't have rain gutters on the roofs yet. 2019 was such a wet year that despite how thirsty hydrangeas are, I didn't have to water those beds once all summer.
I ran a soaker hose under the mulch in the hydrangea beds, because they'll need extra watering from time to time. Every summer won't be like 2019, after all. I also expect to do some light pruning on them in coming years. But outside of mulching after planting, a bit of light weeding and a dose of Holly-Tone fertilizer, I didn't do a single other thing with them in 2019.
I'm eagerly looking forward to the 2020 gardening season. As the old saying goes "the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap!"
For many of my shade-lovers, 2020 is their leap year.
The moment the first seed catalog arrives in the mail, my fingers begin to itch.
I start dreaming of ordering new flowers and fruit trees, and building new raised bed and garden features.
I imagine how beautiful the flowers will be, and how delicious my own tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers will taste after a winter of cardboard vegetables from the grocery store.
Before all of those things happen though, it pays to make a little time to do some planning, budgeting, and taking stock.