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Welcome to My Jungle - February, 2016

Had it been the middle of summer, the weather we all just experienced the last weekend of January would have been downright cold and worthy of a sweater. But temperatures in the mid to upper 60's in the middle of winter just begs for short sleeves and working in the yard…at least for this spring fevered gardener. I chose to spend some of my time outdoors gathering all the fallen branches and twigs on the property and chipping them. There was only one thing that was going to possibly stand in my way—getting my Chipper/Shredder/Vacuum to start. But what do you know, two yanks on the cord and it started right up! I've had my machine for at least a dozen years and I'm pretty sure it was already 20 years old when I bought it used from a friend, but it still performed beautifully and in 4 hours helped me reduce several depressingly large piles of brush to a nice tidy pile of small wood chips.

If you are seeing fresh green growth in your flower beds, there is a good chance it is a common winter annual weed, like henbit or purple deadnettle. Winter annuals complete their life cycle in one year, but instead of germinating in the spring, they germinate in the fall. They over-winter as a rosette, then flower and set seed in the early spring before dying in the late spring. Both henbit and purple dead nettle are members of the mint family (square stems) and because they are closely related, are sometimes difficult to distinguish with only subtle differences between the two. If you ever see a farmer's field in a sea of purple in early spring before field operations start, it is most likely henbit and/or purple dead nettle. Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) is another weed in the mint family that is often confused with henbit and purple dead nettle. Whereas henbit and purple dead nettle are winter annuals, creeping Charlie is a perennial that flowers in late spring. In addition, creeping Charlie is more challenging to hand weed because, as the name suggest, it commonly creeps through the lawn, making it almost impossible to control without the use of selective herbicides.

When is the best time to prune fruit plants? Technically, fruit plants can be pruned any time during the dormant season but for some species it is best to delay the pruning date to just before bud swell (late dormant). Most fruit plants are pruned hard in the dormant season, with the expectation that everything left behind is desirable plant material. Given that partial freeze damage is more severe on outer shoot tips, fruit plants pruned early in the dormant season have a higher chance of injury to desirable fruit buds than those pruned later. The cold hardiness of each species also dictates the order in which to prune; in general always pruning the hardiest first and the least hardy last. For example, most dormant apple buds can survive -60◦F without injury. In contrast, most dormant peach buds would on average sustain a 90% kill at -18◦F, so it makes sense to prune apples first and save peaches for later when there is less chance of killing winter temperatures.

As an added note, once buds begin to break though, and growth is evident, the trees rapidly and irreversibly deharden and become more susceptible to cold injury at an ever increasing rate. For example, apple buds in silver tip stage and peach buds at swollen stage would on average suffer a 90% kill at 2◦F, and start showing injury at 15◦F and 18◦F, respectively. Apple and peach would begin to show injury at 28◦F and a 90% kill at 25◦F anywhere from full bloom to fruit set—making them somewhat equal once they get to the bloom stage.