Carolyn Singer: Sweet fragrance fills a winter day of pruning |

Carolyn Singer: Sweet fragrance fills a winter day of pruning

Carolyn Singer

There's no surer sign that my grandchildren have grown up than the hundreds of violets now showing their sweet blossoms, some purple and others white. Years ago, these exuberant children eagerly hunted for Viola odorata in "Gamma's garden," known to be an edible treat.

In the years since they have been in college I have seen less of my grandchildren. Violets have been free to self-sow, with volunteers spreading as they had done for decades. I use the occasional blossom for salad or to decorate a dessert, but most are allowed to go to seed. What always amazes me is when they establish in unexpected places, often where they will receive no summer irrigation.

In February my garden is a potpourri of fragrance. Adding to the many sweet violets is the first shrub to blossom, sweet vanilla plant. White blossoms are tiny, but fragrance is powerful when this attractive evergreen shrub is in bloom. Just as they fade, the equally fragrant daphne steals the show.

How could I possibly want to be inside on a mild February day?

Tending the garden

Planting bare root and pruning are the priorities of the month. Gardeners at lower elevations and in very warm microclimates will be hustling to accomplish these tasks before March warmth stimulates buds and roots to begin a new season of growth. In my own garden at a 2600 foot elevation on the east side of Sonntag Hill, I can be more leisurely in my approach.

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I am often finishing grape pruning in mid-March. If rains limit the days available to prune — remember, wood should be dry — prune fruits in the order in which they will bloom. Raspberries are first. All growth is pruned to the ground, a pruning approach I use to delay the fruiting this coming summer. A one to two-inch layer of compost and decomposed straw is spread over the bed.

Peaches, nectarines and plums are early bloomers. Prune them first. Apples and pears can wait.

Review pruning skills and perhaps learn some new approaches at today's free pruning clinic at Weiss-Baldoni Nursery in Grass Valley at 10 a.m. This is an opportunity to learn about pruning roses too.

Most herbaceous perennials have already been maintained by pruning old faded growth to the ground in early winter. However, the beauty of ornamental grasses lingers through the winter.

With the snow this past week, many of the grasses were bent and even broken. As I do so with some reluctance, I notice that new growth is just beginning to show in the established crowns. Time to prune. Prune as closely as you can to this old growth crown.

Dormancy is a perfect time to handle bare root plants. In most foothill gardens, this window of opportunity draws to a close by mid-March, if not sooner.

Fruits and nuts, and even hops are available this month. Local nurseries offer a wide assortment, with detailed mouth-watering descriptions, and a wealth of information about requirements for pollination. Some trees are self-fruitful. If you are making choices for the first time, pay attention to this information. It is your guide to future crops.

While plants are dormant, they are unlikely to be shocked by bare root exposure, but do not allow roots to dry out. Move plants quickly from the nursery to your garden. If planting is delayed, heel the stock into moist compost. Dig your planting hole while roots soak in a container of water.

All young fruit trees should have their trunks protected with a coat of interior water-based white paint. Renew the paint as necessary, even on young trees that have been established for a few years.

Right after planting, water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots. A deep soaking is necessary at this stage even if rain is predicted. Mulch with a two to three-inch layer of mulch to conserve moisture. Bare root stock should be irrigated every couple of weeks for the first season after planting.

Rains frequently settle soil and mulch, exposing surface roots. This can happen both with new plantings and established plants. In my garden I have observed that bird activity can scatter mulch. Check your plantings frequently and renew the mulch whenever it's necessary.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning "The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom," and two volumes of "Deer in My Garden" (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to Check out her website at

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