This week we have been enjoying unusually warm and mild weather on the central Oregon coast.
Late January is not known for sunny days, light wind and lack of precipitation. In past years, we have taken to calling it "firehose season" in honor of the horizontal-rain effect that seems directly trained on our windows for days or weeks at a time. So this week of mid-50s to 60s has taken us, and our plants, by surprise.
This winter has been dubbed an "El Nino" year on the Pacific coast, bringing warmer and drier weather than the recorded average. You may recall we experienced extreme cold temperatures in December, but what followed was quite the opposite. So many of our perennial plants and shrubs have decided it's already time to waken from their winter slumber.
So far I have noted the following early beginnings in Lincoln City landscapes:
- Fruiting trees and berries: the buds on my pear espalier are already swollen anticipating bloom, though the apples are holding firm. Raspberries are showing green-tip, and some runners are popping up with new shoots. Strawberries are sending up the first new leaves.
- Spring bulbs/flowers: primroses bursting into bloom, and most of the spring bulbs are up. Daffodils were first up, with tips breaking the soil just after New Year. They are now 8-10" tall but not blooming yet. Tulips are now coming up, about 2-3" leaves. Grape hyacinths have just now started blooming.
- Perennials/small shrubs: tea roses are beginning to leaf out, weeks ahead of schedule. Heathers have been blooming for weeks, and daylilies (among other lilies) are well into their spring growth, with shoots 3-4" tall.
- Larger shrubs: hydrangeas are pushing out new vegetative buds and even some leaves.
- Lawns are suddenly kicking into gear, if they were well fertilized in late summer/fall and have good southern exposure (remember, the sun is still quite low in the sky). It amazes me that we can legitimately fire up the lawnmower, as many clients' lawns are already shaggy.
- Weeds are on the rampage, especially Little Western Bittercress, also known as "Touch-me-Not." This last nickname aptly describes the gardener's frustration when trying to pluck out these prolific little weeds, only to have their pods explode on contact, sending seeds forth.
With all this early activity, it may be hard to decide what tasks are appropriate, or if it's too late for some. Here are a few that, in my opinion, should be on your list for the coming week or two.
- Get control of weeds as soon as you see them. The sooner you knock out weeds with a sharp hoe or pull them from the ground, the fewer will set seed or get established. You will appreciate the lighter workload come May 1.
- Complete any dormant pruning and/or dormant spraying you have put off, for fruit trees and other plants that might benefit from the off-season treatment. Dormant oil and copper or lime/sulfur sprays are commonly used on these plants while the leaves are off and before bud-break, to control various diseases and pests the rest of the year. Consult your local extension office for the appropriate plants to treat, and what sprays to use, in your area.
- Plant and/or prune your roses as we head into February. Normally this is recommended closer to President's Day, but with the roses moving quickly into leaf, they are saying "GO!"
- Clean up mulched areas of fallen leaves under disease- or pest-susceptible plants, such as fruit trees or rhododendrons (root weevils). This hygiene practice will help to greatly reduce the population of pests or disease by removing their overwintering and reproduction habitat.
- If you haven't applied lime to your lawn, now is still a good time. It's early for a dose of spring fertilizer, and this will give the lime more opportunity to work into the soil and help with correcting the acidic coastal soils.
- Start seeds indoors for planting out later. The list is too long to mention everything, but I will usually get my tomatoes and peppers going (with supplemental bottom heat) in February for an early start, which we need on the coast. Many salad greens can be started inside without extra heat, especially in a cool greenhouse, for planting out in a month or so-- think spinach, lettuce, Asian greens, brassicas, etc. If the weather stays mild, start peas and radishes outside, or plant the peas in peat pots. Check your seed packs for germination temperature.
Enjoy these early bursts of spring, and share your observations of the season in comments below!