Duchess of Dirt Leslie Cox is faced with a pest control job on the underside of a camellia shrub.

Duchess of Dirt Leslie Cox is faced with a pest control job on the underside of a camellia shrub.

Plenty to prepare in garden at this time of year

Top of my winter garden list is my gardening tools. Secateurs and pruners need cleaning and sharpening...

Time. Always in short supply, isn’t it?

I can never get through all the chores on my To-Do List by day’s end. Been struggling with that for years.

It has gotten a little better since the kids left home but not by much. I just switched the demands from kids for the demands of a larger garden.

Top of my winter garden list is my gardening tools. Secateurs and pruners need cleaning and sharpening. Time to prune the fruit trees and you want your tools sharp for clean cuts.

And do not forget to sterilize your cutting blades so you are not passing latent diseases on to the next plant. My sterilizing solution recipe is: one part hydrogen peroxide (a natural bleach) to four parts water.

Next on my list is to sort my seeds packets left over from last season.

I also have to finish cleaning the seeds I collected into paper bags last fall. Should have had this chore crossed off already, as the seed catalogues have been accumulating since Christmas.

Have to admit, I jumped the gun and placed one order already. Could not resist as there were a couple of “must-have” varieties I had been searching for.

One in particular was Nicotiana alata … not to be mixed up with all of the masses of colourful, scent-less cultivars available in the nurseries every spring.

The nicotiana I wanted is the pure white species. Throughout the day, the flowers are closed, only opening come happy hour and are they ever scented! The whole reason why its common name is Jasmine tobacco, which makes it a perfect plant for a quiet evening spent in the pergola with your spouse.

We used to have this annual plant years ago and it had been a reliable self-seeder for us. But for some reason, it did not return one year.

Likely due to John’s persistence in removing spent flowers … on top of his constant tweaking of his landscape design, which disturbed the over-wintering seeds.

Now that I have finally found some seeds, the new patch of nicotianas will be hands-off to John so I can collect seeds every year. Just in case.

Next on The List is to spray the fruit trees and a few other plants with dormant oil, or horticultural oil as it is more commonly called these days.

This is for insect pest control, something we have to think about since we had a large infestation of forest tent caterpillars last year. I also discovered a fair infestation of scale on the undersides of the leaves on our camellia shrub.

But even given the likely presence of over-wintering eggs or larvae of these pests, I am of two minds about applying dormant oil. There will also be pupae of Mourning Cloak butterflies and eggs of Swallowtail butterflies present in our garden right now.

Both of these are important pollinators in the garden and the dormant oil is indiscriminate. It will destroy the beneficial insects right along with the pests.

Am thinking instead of dormant oil, I will look for and prune out the forest tent caterpillar egg sacs. They are quite visible if you know what to look for and especially before the trees leaf out.

But my heart sinks at the thought of hand-washing each camellia leaf with soapy water … the only other organic control for scale I know of. I used to do this treatment for my mom’s flowering maple while enjoying a cup of coffee with her.

The huge camellia is going to take several pots of coffee, I fear … and blow the time schedule on my To-Do list all to heck.

It is a tough decision when time is of the essence but we need to protect our pollinators at all costs.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Thursday in the Record.

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