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Gail's Gardens - January 2016


Gail's Gardens - January 2016

by Gail Fanning

Wow: 2016 already! Lovely to have some rain and the hills greening up again. I’m sure some of you experienced some losses in the garden with the very cold weather last month: remember that leaving that ugly, shriveled, frost-bitten top growth in place until Spring may protect the roots, so that your plant can re-grow next year.

Check the paper and your local nursery for rose pruning classes: this is the month to get that job done. Be sure to sharpen your pruners: if you don’t know how to do it yourself, sharpening is available at the Sebastopol Farmers Market on alternate Sundays. If you want to try it yourself, check out the videos on you tube: I recommend the ones by Felco: And, if you haven’t already, consider investing in elbow-high leather gloves for protection while working. I wouldn’t be without mine! 

Bare-root roses should be in the nurseries and ready for planting now: don’t forget the gopher wire! If you love yellow roses, check out David Austin’s new introduction for 2016: ‘The Poet’s Wife’ with lemony fragrance and an excellent repeating (re-blooming) habit. Weeks Roses (grown in California) has a new yellow ground cover rose called ‘Sunshine Happy Trails’: also a quick repeater, it grows only 4’ high.

Just returned from a wonderful trip to Greece: olive trees, rosemary, and cyclamen on rocky hillsides above clear blue waters: stunning!

I particularly fell in love with a graceful small pine tree that we saw growing everywhere: Aleppo pine (pinus halpensis). It has long, light yellow-green needles that always look very fresh and clean, and the bark is reddish-brown, thick, and deeply fissured. Height ranges from 30 to 80 feet. It is quite happy growing in rocky, dry soils on hillsides, where it seems to stay smaller and more compact: 30-40 feet was most common. It is native throughout the Mediterranean from Morocco to Israel. The resin is used to flavor the Greek wine retsina. Apparently the Aleppo pine is commonly planted in Southern California, but I have not seen it used here much. I’m hoping to find one to try out on my hillside soon.

If you have plans to renew your plantings for 2016, it’s time to start thinking about buying any shrubs or trees you need now. I like to start planting hardy stock in January and February when they can have several months of good rain to get established in their new home. Buying deciduous trees now gives you the chance to really look at their branching structure, and if necessary, prune to the shape that suits your situation. Be sure not to plant in water logged ground, and don’t try any plants that may be frost tender, but most hardy trees and shrubs can be planted now. 

This is also the season for planting bare root fruit trees: Urban Tree Farm on Fulton Road has a large selection available. If you are unsure about caring for fruit trees, new or old, they have some excellent videos on their website to help you with pruning, planting, and pollination questions. Check it out at

Have a mystery tree in your garden? There’s a nice, easy to use leaf ID app at which can help you sort it out. When attempting to ID a plant from its leaves, be sure to use a branch containing at least six leaves (or more) for your reference. Once you know what tree you have, you can look up care and feeding tips online using the botanical name (that’s the funny looking, unpronouncible Latin name). 

Need tips on renewing your garden for the New Year? I am available for consultations and coaching: call me at 829-2455.