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When does dormant season end?

My garden never really seems dormant. With signs of spring starting as early as the bulbs that pop up in December and January, a new gardening season begins before I have even finished with the last one. But as long as the weather is chilly (except for a few warm days), and there is no sign of growth, the winter planting season usually extends into March.

Local nurseries offer a wide choice of plants each winter. Purchase your plants now while the selection is good. In choosing fruit trees, look for healthy wood and a branching pattern that includes evenly spaced branches around the trunk. The initial pruning will eliminate all but three to four of the branches and shorten the tree to three to four feet.

Roots should be healthy too, with an extensive system of fine absorbing roots. The primary roots may have been pruned when the trees were dug from the field. Do NOT allow roots to dry out at any time during the transition from nursery to permanent location. Roots should be kept cool and moist, and dormant plants should be protected from warm sun before planting. Full shade while plants are dormant works best for a temporary location.



When you are ready to plant, soak each tree in a 5-gallon bucket of water to which you have added two tablespoons of kelp. The water may be used to water the tree after it is planted.

Some mail order nurseries hold trees in refrigeration, shipping as late as April. One year I ordered some unusual cherry trees I could not find locally. I planted them the day they arrived in late April. Within days, dormancy broke, and the trees grew without shock.




Bareroot berries may be held in a plastic bag under refrigeration to extend dormancy. Moisten roots before refrigerating, and check them frequently, adding more moisture if necessary. It’s amazing how quickly growth begins as soon as those plants are exposed to light, good soil, and early spring warmth.

Digging in wet clay soil is not a good garden practice because it can cause compaction. Wait until several days have passed following a rainstorm. Then test the soil for moisture content. Squeeze a handful of soil: if it feels sticky, or forms a ball, it’s still too wet. Soil that crumbles in your hand is perfect for digging and preparation. However, if repeated storms continue into March, planting bareroot may have to be done in less than ideal conditions. It’s important that these plants be moved to their permanent location while they are dormant.

Bareroot cane berries (raspberries, blackberries & boysenberries) may be planted in soil enriched with compost, including composted poultry manures which are high in nitrogen. Strawberries prefer good soils too, although once berries begin to form (often in the first season after planting), soil should not be too high in nitrogen. Fruit trees benefit from the addition of decomposed compost, but not hot manures. All the bareroot plants must be planted with organic phosphorus (two cups per tree) and oyster shell (1/2 cup per tree).

Microclimates on foothill properties are highly varied, adding to the challenge of choosing and succeeding, but at the same time opening the possibilities of growing marginal crops on some sites. Nurseries and neighbors can help you with your selection of fruits that will do well for your particular elevation and soils.

Berries are one of the most productive crops for foothill gardens. I will be teaching a class about berries at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, February 13. For information, call 272-4769. Each berry will be detailed for site selection, soil preparation, training, pruning, and seasonal maintenance. This will be a chance to explore how microclimates may enhance berry production even in our hot, dry foothill summer. Last fall I picked one to two quarts of raspberries from a very small patch everyday for several weeks!

Carolyn Singer has gardened in the foothills since 1977. She is the author of two books of deer-resistant plants: “Deer in My Garden, Vol. 1: Perennials & Subshrubs” and ” Vol. 2: Groundcovers & Edgers.” Previous articles and a schedule of upcoming gardening classes may be found at http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.


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