Garden Tips | January 3, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - January 3, 2014

Garden Tips

Winter: time to get back to work in the garden

by Jack McKinnon

So, why does Mother Nature allow young plants to die for good gardeners? What is the reason for us being here anyway? How did we manage to get this far already without being wiped out by a meteor, a volcanic shift or a cosmic convergence? And why do weeds grow better than flowers?

It is time for some pruning and if you are sitting around as I am asking all these simple-minded easily answered questions, then you are a lazy bones and need to get back to work. But first, to get the questions out of the way.

If nature wasn't random in its service to gardeners, it would not be nature. We struggle to make good gardens. The struggle is as important as the results. Luck is how we got this far so far, nothing more, nothing less. And weeds grow better than cultivated plants because the ones that survive are ideal for where they are.

We try to choose or create an ideal environment for the plants we select. Weeds thrive or die by ideal environment or natural selection. Our choice is by control or desire, theirs is survival. Actually we have a much higher success rate. Their advantage is in numbers. A little cultivation shifts that advantage to us in our gardens.

Here are this month's tips:

1. Time for winter pruning. Remove everything dead, dying and diseased. Leave no stubs.

2. Plant trees, shrubs and vines.

3. Control vines by tying to trellises.

4. Cut back ground covers, especially ivy.

5. Clean up debris, leaf matter and dead plants.

6. Compost or recycle all waste.

7. Shop for seeds, plants and bare-root roses and fruit trees when they become available.

8. Dress beds with compost and cultivate.

9. Divide clumping grasses and plants.

10. Redesign a vista either by large scale including hardscape, water features and sculptural elements or with color accenting and/or highlighting. Remember that subtle can be quite profound.

Good gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687 (cell), by email at Visit his website at