Q: Recently you suggested not separating a clump of irises that needed to be moved this time of year. I always thought clumps of irises needed to be divided when they are moved. Why do you suggest waiting? – L.I.T., Albuquerque
A: Moved now, during the coldest month of our year, the risks outweigh the rewards. Keeping the clump of irises together produces much less risk of any of the irises suffering the unmanageable stress that will be caused by the move.
If you choose to divide a major clump this time of year, the plants won’t have the snuggly comfort of each other. Without being divided now, they are more likely to bloom this spring.
Me? I’d move the collections lock, stock and barrel now, then be patient and if needed, divide the clumps in July.
Q: We have a nice sunny spot that we want to plant a Japanese maple tree. When will be the best time to plant one in our landscaping? – C.W., Albuquerque
A: The spot won’t work. The words sunny and Japanese maple don’t mix.
Think about using this type of maple as an “understory tree.” Here, the only healthy Japanese maple that I know of are grown in areas that offer dappled light created by plantings of larger trees.
Granted the space could have sun in the early morning and again in the late afternoon, but sun all day, ooof! I truly believe that the maple would suffer dreadfully if planted in an area that is constantly sunny all day.
I don’t mean to quash your desires, but Japanese maples are more “tender,” if you will, and not meant to be planted in full, mile-high sun.
As to when to plant, if you can find one available now, go for it. Personally, I’d think about waiting until later, like late February.
Q: Okay, I’m bored! What can I be doing in the yard this time of year? – S.S., Albuquerque
A: Please take some time to do nothing, per se, in your yard. But, if you need to be out, I’d suggest sweeping.
No, seriously. Take advantage of this down time and rest, just like the majority of your plant life is doing. Sweep up corners where leaves have clustered and tidy up your space.
I also suggest that you take weekly “health strolls” about your landscaping. Carry some bright ribbon and look at trees and shrubs that have branches that are crossed or rubbing. Tie a length of the ribbon on the spots so you remember to prune later to encourage better shape, air circulation and openness.
Now, if you find broken or damaged wood, the sooner you can get that cleaned up, the better. Remember that when cutting out a damaged or broken limb or branch, start your cut on the bottom of that wood, below the wound, cutting upwards so no tearing of bark happens when the weight of the branch finally gives way. But don’t do true major pruning yet. It’s too soon in the year. And certainly don’t start pruning roses now, it’s far too soon for that project.
If you still want to be out in this cold weather, then fluff any mulches you have placed around. Just don’t pull it back yet.
Have you cleaned and oiled all of your yard tools yet? If not, give all the blades a good cleaning and if they have wood handles, consider wiping them down with mineral oil to keep the wood healthy.
Back indoors, if you have the internet, type in your favorite plants and see if you can find sites where you can purchase or see if catalogs are offered. Curling up with a catalog of fresh new choices is a delightful way to while away this time of year.
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get out tending your gardens now. The time for that will be here soon enough. Rest and be patient.
Happy Diggin’ In!
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.