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Winter is the perfect time for Trimming, Weeding, and Houseplant Care

White down-turned flowers grow in the woods
Snowdrops emerge in late winter, sometimes when snow is still on the ground. (Photo: Mark Kent)

It is sleeting outside, and I have been so busy at work I failed to wrap up my Buxus ‘Graham Blandy’ at home before the storm moved in. Looks like I will be doing directional pruning in March to reshape the vertical growing boxwood. I encourage you to check our Facebook page for the update in early March. These short winter days always hamper my Winter To-Do List, I am already looking forward to the longer days of spring.

A man uses a weed eater to trim dry plants in winter.
Mid-late winter is the best time to cut down ornamental grasses. (Photo: Courtney Coates, Horticulturist at Maymont)

At Maymont, we are cutting back the Liriope, aka "Monkey Grass" or "Lilyturf," to 3 inches. We find using a lawn mower set on the highest cutting level works well plus it makes raking up the debris a bit easier. I find when using a weed eater, the clippings go everywhere creating a broader mess to clean up. Cutting back this evergreen groundcover now will eliminate the possibility of cutting off the tips of the new growth for the 2022 season. This plant is truly a lily, not a grass, and if the tips of the emerging leaf blades are cut off the end result are brown ends. The brown tips will impact the appearance of the plant for the remainder of the season. If not cut back regularly, the previous year’s growth of the plant dies back, creating an unsightly mat underneath. Remember, the cut clippings are a perfect “green” component for the compost pile and are easy to mix in as the pile is turned.

Green-leaved vines grow through brown dormant plants.
“Volunteer” plants are easy to spy in the winter, and with the high soil moisture, these invaders can be dug out. (Photo: Peggy SInglemann)

Another item on the winter list is to remove the “volunteer” plants that have nestled themselves in the landscape plants. With less leaves to cloak them, these random newcomers are more conspicuous by their growth habit, different bark, or evergreen nature. The moist soil of winter enables removing the roots much easier with little disturbance to nearby plants.

Privet growing at the base of a rose bush
Cutting the "volunteer plants" back to the ground will only stimulate more growth in the spring. (Photo: Peggy Singlemann)

I suggest using an Asparagus knife to disrupt the root system of the undesirable plant before giving it a good pull. This tool is a favorite of mine because it can slide deep into moist soil with little disruption to roots of a nearby desirable plant.

A shovel with a wide trip of metal for pushing on with your foot is shown

For ease of use, look for a wide step when purchasing a round point shovel. (Photo: Peggy Singlemann)

My other favorite tools are a Hori Hori weeding and digging knife — a sharpened round-point shovel with a comfort step and strong handle shank — plus quality cutting tools such as loppers, hedge clippers, and hand clippers all with bypass or scissor-like action. I find having an ultra-long reach pole pruner very helpful to reach branches high above my head. I suggest purchasing one that is light in weight for ease of maneuverability.

Mid-February is rose pruning season. Before beginning the process of removing about 2/3rds of an existing bush, confirm the type of roses in the garden are ones that require pruning during the late winter. Old or heritage roses need pruning after they bloom in May to June — also note: climbing roses are not pruned the same as bush roses. For climbing roses, remove only deadwood in February, along with a stray rose cane or two that is crossing or rubbing another, or growing out of the defined form of the plant. Do not let this task intimidate you instead, check for a Virginia Home Grown Facebook update in mid-February for my video on pruning shrub roses.

Green succulents grow towards a window.
Phototropism is the way plants respond to and move because of light. Here, Peggy's succulents are leaning towards the window for light. You can give you plants even light exposure by turning them every few days. (Photo; Peggy Singlemann).

Continue to resist the urge to cut back the perennial borders until early March. It is important to protect the overwintering beneficial insects dormant among the old plant debris. Instead, focus your attention indoors on the houseplants. Plants respond to light and orientate themselves toward the light source; this is called phototropism. Turning the plants every few days keeps plants looking their best and keeps them healthy due to light falling on all sides of the plant regularly. Continue to monitor each plant for signs of insects or a potential disease issue. Allowing the soil to dry out between waterings reduces fungus gnats and aids in preventing root rot due to overwatering. During the short winter days, it is not beneficial to fertilize houseplants since they are dormant. I wait until March to resume fertilizing and I always follow the instructions on the label. Remember, the label is the law.

Be kind to yourself, as well, by doing your best to stay healthy and Happy Gardening!
Peggy, Director of Park Operations and Horticulture at Maymont