'Tis the season for yard chores

Juan Brenes prunes a crape myrtle tree in North Augusta's Riverview Park. Crape myrtles can be pruned any time before new growth in the spring.

Many of you might be off from work through to the New Year. That means you can get caught up on chores that need to be done in the yard. The only thing that can stop us is the weather. Let’s hope it works out in our favor.

Here is a good list of things to work on.

• If you haven’t limed your landscape or garden in a long time (or ever) and you think it needs it, put out some lime so it will have time between now and spring to react in the soil. The only way to know for sure how much lime you need is to have a soil test done.

Sandier soils need lime more often than clay soils. Lime raises the pH of the soil to a desirable level, and it provides calcium and magnesium, which are two important elements for plant growth.

I would take a soil test from the lawn area before liming because you don’t want the pH to get too high (over 6.5), because this can increase the chances of take-all patch fungus.

Always buy a high-quality lime because it will react quicker in the soil. Every bag has a screen analysis, and you want a minimum of 70 percent passing through a 100-mesh screen.

I recommend pelleted lime because it is so much easier to apply.

• Remove faded annual flowers such as marigolds, salvia, zinnias, vinca, begonias and others. If you have the time, spade these beds and add some organic matter and lime to improve them.

Perennial flowers such as chrysanthemums, Shasta and Gerber daisies and others need care, too. Cut the stems back near ground level and mulch. New sprouts will emerge near ground level in the spring.

• If you have crowded shrubs in the landscape, this is a good time to move them to a roomier location. Don’t let the plant stay out of the ground very long. If you do, keep the root ball moist.

• One of the biggest pruning questions I get is about cutting back crape myrtles. They are a tough plant and can be cut now or any time before new growth begins in the spring.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to cut crape myrtles just because your neighbors do. Butchering crape myrtles every year back to “knobs” causes them to look unnatural and makes them put on a strong flush of new growth that is susceptible to breaking off once they have leaves and blooms.

• Depending on where you live, your lantana foliage might have died because of freezing weather. Mine still shows a little green. From the time the top dies until late winter is a good time to cut them back.

Most people, including myself, prefer to do it as soon as possible after the tops die.

Various publications might tell you to wait just before the new growth comes out. This will increase their cold-hardiness. If you are like me, you don’t want to look at all that dead foliage all winter.

Most people cut them back shortly after the tops die and don’t have problems with them coming back. The only exception for me is a couple that I moved during the winter. Besides, lantana is inexpensive, so if some don’t come back you can just buy more next spring.

• If you have tree limbs rubbing against your house or the roof, hanging too low in the yard, or are dead in the tree, go ahead and cut them out.

Don’t leave stubs after you prune, but don’t flush-cut either. Make cuts just to the outside of the swollen branch collar. If you’re cutting a limb back just part of the way, it’s always better to cut it back to where it joins another limb. You do not need to use pruning paints or tar on the cuts.

• From around Thanksgiving through the first of the year, you might see many yellow leaves on your azaleas. Most of this is natural because all evergreens lose older leaves.

These older leaves run out of nitrogen because the azaleas slowly pull nitrogen from the older leaves to the newer foliage.

Nutrient flow slows, resulting in yellow, bronzing, or complete leaf fall.

The best way to prevent this from happening worse than normal is to fertilizer azaleas in August or early September, particularly with a slow release or organic fertilizer. Other plants, including hollies and magnolias, go through the same yellowing, but in the spring.

I have not had a good killing frost yet at my house. Because of this, I am still harvesting bell pepper from my garden.

I just picked two about a week ago. The same thing happened last year. One of my tomato plants lasted until a couple of weeks ago. We just ate our last home-grown tomato last weekend.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas! Happy gardening!

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