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Not just yet, gardeners

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Local experts give tips on winter gardening

By Tris DeRoma

It may feel like spring out there with the warm weather and the absence of snow, but gardeners out there should hold off for a bit longer, according to local experts.

In northern New Mexico, Mother Nature is fickle, and it’s not a good idea to count your perennials before they hatch.

According to New Mexico State University,  Los Alamos County Program Director Carlos Valdez, gardeners should stick to their regular February schedule. That is if there is no snow on the ground, continue with regular cleanup chores, and perhaps some watering, especially if temps have gone past 50 degrees for longer than a few days in a row.

“Anything that’s been newly planted ought to be getting a good shot of water,” Valdez said.

Newly planted means plants planted in the last planting season. Don’t try to plant anything now, even though it may feel like spring.

“Invariably, in April, we will have a hard freeze,” Valdez said. “Stick to the usual routine with the exception of hard watering.”

Master gardener and Summit Garden Club member Doris Thieleman suggests waiting until mid-May to plant.

“If you want to get out, it’s probably OK to start cleaning up. I leave a lot of my plants for seed for the birds in the winter, but if it’s a warm day, I may start trimming things,” Thieleman said.

While both agree to stay away from planting annuals right now, come March, some vegetables, those that are acclimated to cooler weather may fair well, even during an occasional surprise freeze.

For the most part though, both experts agree that February is a time to assess and keep things tidy.

“Now is a good time to start looking at your seed catalogs, cleaning and planning, but I’d probably not remove the mulch yet, since it can still get cold,” Thieleman said.

Mulch during the winter serves to protect and insulate the dormant root systems of perennials, trees and bushes during the winter.  

As the weather grows warmer, mulch will also further protect dormant perennials as the soil heats up.

Warm weather also brings out the deer and rodents unfortunately, so now would be a good time to cut back matt forming perennials according to the State University Extension Office.

“Often rodents will hide beneath the foliage and either eat the crowns or create homes,” Valdez said in an email. “Install hardware cloth around stems to protect against further damage.”

It also goes without saying that just because it’s warm out, doesn’t mean the weeds have to stay.

“Pull winter annual weeds such as Cheatgrass, Prickly Lettuce and Horseweed now when they are small and before they form flowers and seeds,” Valdez said.

For more information about winter gardening, visit the Los Alamos Cooperative Extension Service at 475 20th Street Suite A, or give them a call at 662-2656.