Winter Gardening

Happy New Gardening Year!  

Winter Pruning

Yes, it’s rose pruning time!  Make a resolution to get started on the next sunny day, so that you can finish all your roses by the end of month.  People often say: “But my roses are still blooming!”  Be brave and prune away: use those blossoms for a nice mid-winter bouquet in the house.  (I put a lovely group of buds and blossoms  pruned from my white “Crocus Rose” in a low bowl on the kitchen table, with a red pillar candle in the center providing a holiday touch.)

Use a nice sharp pruner and cut back your bush roses to 12 or 18 inches from the ground to promote strong and productive new growth next spring.  Climbers need to have the lateral shoots pruned back to about 6 inches from the main stem. Be sure to remove “the 3 Ds”: dead, damaged, and diseased branches on all your roses.  Unsure how to proceed?  Check the local listing for classes about rose pruning, offered at many locations this month.

This is also rose planting time with bare-root roses appearing now at your favorite nursery.  If you love old-fashioned roses with wonderful fragrance and repeat blooming like I do, check out, where you can order your bare-roots on-line.  I grow  the “Crocus Rose” (mentioned above) and “Gertrude Jekyll” and just love them!  Very good repeat flowering, minimal black spot, and ohhh, the fragrance!  The local retailer for David Austin Roses is Garden Valley Ranch on  Pepper Road  in Petaluma.

What not to prune?  How about those ornamental grasses that are by now looking a bit the worse for wear?  Yes, it’s tempting to neaten up the garden by chopping them down now, but if you leave the old stems standing until spring, you provide useful feed for birds and protection from cold for the crown of the plant.  Many of the pennisetums, especially the wonderful Purple Fountain Grass, are frost tender,  so  please leave their old stems until frost danger is past (mid-April in my neighborhood).

Browsing on You-tube I came upon the wonderful series The Victorian Kitchen Garden:  13 episodes created by BBC2 in 1987, it follows the year-long cycle of vegetable and fruit production in a walled English garden in Wiltshire, with delightfully low-key British commentary by the head gardener.  If you are (as the Brits say) a keen veg gardener who aspires to a beautiful and productive plot, be sure to check this out for inspiration and practical tips.

Great garden visits in the Bay Area!  

I visited the U C Berkeley Botanical Garden for the first time recently: what a great local retreat and education center! Located on the hill above the Greek Theatre it has excellently labeled plant collections from all parts of the world. The lovely Asian planting area is centered around a tranquil waterfall and pond, and the Old Rose Garden is high on the hill with spectacular views to the Golden Gate. Visiting on a cold day in winter, I particularly enjoyed exploring their glass houses with collections of the extremely odd desert plants from all the continents.

The South African Aloes and Euphorbias are wonderful in their colorful varieties.  The incredibly rock-like Lithops (living stones)  are so bizarre!  What a fun house plant: great for those with a black thumb, as they live in some of the most arid, rocky places on earth.  They are for sale in the gift shop, along with lots of other cool plants and beautifully planted containers.  They also have wall-hanging succulent arrangements: something I mean to try outside next summer.

Questions about your garden?  Send me an e-mail at, and I will try to help!

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