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Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer



March in the Garden
wild plumPruning season ends with hardwood & root cuttings

by Carolyn Singer
March 13, 2010

With the cold and rainy weather we have been enjoying, late winter gardening tasks have seemed easier to accomplish even when dry hours have been few and far between.

While I still have a few plants to plant bareroot, it is clear that the winter dormant season is coming to an end as plums, cherries, and almonds are bursting into bloom.

This past week, I pruned my 33-year-old Concord grape. It's thick twisted trunk branches off to four old cordons that rest on top of a sturdy trellis built by a friend. Each year I prune off the previous season's growth, leaving short spurs to produce fruit this coming summer. Most spurs are pruned to two buds, but the weaker spurs are pruned to one. The grape quickly covers the support structure once growth starts.

Concord grape after pruningThe grape is the last edible plant to be pruned. If I prune it earlier in January or February, and we suddenly have warm weather, sometimes growth will begin too early, only to be damaged by the next frost. So this pruning task is postponed until March. As soon as I make the cuts, the sap begins to run from the wood, but this "bleeding" does not last long.

grape hardwood cuttingsOne-year-old wood from the grapevine may be used for hardwood cuttings. The wood should be pencil-size or larger. Cut pieces should have three buds. Insert the wood into a mix of good compost, sand, and phosphorus. The lower two buds should be completely covered with the mix. This propagation can be done in containers or a special nursery bed where close attention will be paid to irrigation while cuttings are rooting.

Elderberries are even easier than grapes for hardwood cuttings. One year I used my elderberry prunings to mark the rows of my potatoes. In just a few weeks, I noticed young elderberries growing in the potato patch!

hop root cuttingsStill dormant, hops are easily transplanted this month. Young plants with large root sections may be lifted and relocated. This is also perfect time to make root cuttings. Working with a length of the fleshy root, cut two-inch sections. Each section should have smaller absorbing roots.

Fill a two-gallon container with compost, adding two tablespoons of colloidal phosphate and a heaping teaspoon of oystershell per container. Place a single section of root horizontally in the container then cover with one to two inches of compost. The root system of the hops will completely fill the container by summer's end.

This week, I am trading with a friend, her white violets for my purple ones. It's perfect transplanting weather, cool and damp. With a fork, I also have carefully lifted bulbs, even in bloom, and moved them to my entry garden where I can see them from inside the living room. The bulbs moved this morning had hail and snow falling on them later in the day.

Japanese flowering quinceSoil in the vegetable garden is certainly too wet to be adding amendments or turning in a cover crop, and it may be too cold for good germination of seeds. But if you have a greenhouse or cold frame, many seeds can now be sown in flats and transplanted to the garden in April. Planning your garden now will give you a headstart when the weather changes to warm spring days.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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