Garden work

Garden work

Garden work is blessed work, but it’s still work. That’s why garden tasks are called chores.

Last Sunday, in Oklahoma, we had a high of 68°F, so I worked my tail feathers off in the two beds facing the street. It was dirty, dusty and glorious.

One of the two garden beds I worked on last week.
One of the two garden beds I worked on last week.

Why dusty? Oklahoma is in the midst of another serious drought. Pray for rain. Do a rain dance. We need rain.

When I posted some of these photos on Instagram and Facebook last week, one friend thanked me for giving her permission to cut back some of her perennials.

Garden beds after I finished. It took me one full afternoon. I need to now mulch it with shredded leaves.
Garden beds after I finished. It took me one full afternoon. I need to now mulch it with shredded leaves.

Okay, consider this post permission to do some work outside when the weather is good. There’s nothing like getting out in the garden on a beautiful sunny if windy, day–it is Oklahoma after all–and working with garden shears, hand pruners, and loppers to get your late winter juices flowing. Below is a little beforehand video I posted on Instagram of what I was going to do. Also, herein are photos of before and after and what the garden bed looked like last summer.

The front garden bed facing the street late last summer.
The front garden bed facing the street late last summer. In a few months, I hope it will look like this again.
Spicebush (I think) Swallowtail butterfly on false vervain.
Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly on false vervain from last summer. I also grow Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, just for this butterfly.
Stachytarpheta 'Nectarwand Red' false vervain from Bustani Plant Farm. It's one of my favorites.
Stachytarpheta ‘Nectarwand Red’ false vervain from Bustani Plant Farm dance in the Oklahoma wind. It’s one of my favorites.

Follow me on Instagram and Facebook to see more photos. It’s like mini-blogging.

About that dead perennial foliage.

Now, some people will tell you that you need to leave all of the dead perennial foliage up to protect pollinators, and while it is true that pollinators and other small insects nest in stems, the part of the garden where I was working is a fraction of my whole garden.

I have to start now on the good days to finish everything.

Watch out for the phlox bug.

Too, there is a nasty phlox bug, Lopidea davisi, that causes garden phlox a lot of problems. I have several large stands of tall phlox in my garden so I’m cleaning it up early. I haven’t seen this bug in my garden yet, but I’m being careful. My friends with the phlox bug cut back their dead foliage after the first freeze and bag it to prevent the bug from overwintering in place. See my friend, Gail’s blog, Clay and Limestone, for more information about this pest in Tennessee.

About the roses.

There are five roses in these two garden beds. I went ahead and cut them back now. The old standard was to cut them back in late February when they were dormant. Well, with the way the weather now behaves, my roses never go dormant. We have very cold days followed by very warm ones, and the roses and I are completely confused. So, I cut mine back. I’m not telling you to cut yours back. Mine will be quite stressed, but most are grown on their own roots, and I’m not that worried. The only one I didn’t touch was a David Austin, The Alnwick Rose. It’s considered very hardy and disease resistant, but it is on grafted wood so I didn’t want to take a chance. Normally, I plant grafted roses on the east side of my house, but I’ve run out of space, and this was an impulse purchase last spring. I’m hoping that even though I removed the dead foliage from perennials surrounding it, it won’t die.

If it does, it does.

So, basically, I pulled up my dead tropical plants and cut back the grasses, perennials, and roses. I then put most of the dead stems and foliage in my compost pile.

Compost piles, the backbone of all gardens.
Compost piles, the backbone of all good gardens.

Then, I took three Advil.

Shredded leaf piles.
Shredded leaf piles.

A word about my shredded leaf piles.

When I posted on Instagram and Facebook about how my son and I shred leaves, I received a comment about how we were decimating the Monarch habitat and how important butterflies and other pollinators are to our environment.

Adult Monarch on 'Will's Wonderful' mum is all of its bright glory.
Adult Monarch on ‘Will’s Wonderful’ mum is all of its bright glory.

Sigh. Those of you who follow me regularly know I love Monarchs and other pollinators. I’m not trying to ruin their world. I even raise Monarch caterpillars and plant several types of milkweed just for them.

Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, is a great nectar plant too, and it smells like bubblegum. See the assassin bug on the bloom? He will eat anything including your Monarch caterpillars.
Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, is a great nectar plant too, and it smells like bubblegum. See the assassin bug on the bloom? He will eat anything including your Monarch caterpillars. Best to bring your cats inside where they are safe.

Oak leaves are extremely fibrous, however, and they smother many of the plants in my front flower bed so I do blow them out and get them off of my fescue lawnette. The rest of my grass is all just prairie Bermuda–not planted by me–and it can fend for itself. However, the fescue needs special help as do the shade beds out front. I hope I don’t sound too cranky, but my property has piles of leaves left in situ all over the property.

I care about pollinators. I really do. I also care about my garden. Shredding leaves make great, free mulch.

It’s all about balance.

Sometimes, I get completely stalled about writing about garden practices anymore. It seems like someone is always waiting in the wings to catch someone else “doing it wrong.” I do my best, and I assume you do too.

With that in mind, what are you doing in your garden in mid-January? If you live in the middle south or Texas, you might be doing the same things I am. In fact, in Texas, I imagine you’re way ahead of me.

Let’s do this garden work a little bit at a time so we don’t kill ourselves. It’s one of my garden resolutions for this year. I’m also simplifying things. I’ll let you know more about that later.

Have a beautiful week my friends!




  1. Christine B says:

    Garden chores + 68 degrees + February = does not compute. Error message.
    I can only imagine, except the advil part. That part is the same here. I don’t know how I’d manage without advil!

    Christine in Alaska, 20 degrees, no chores yet

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Ha, Christine, you’ll be happy to know, Oklahoma is now down to 21° with an ice storm on the way. That’s why I’m so grateful for those summer-like days. Hope your weather improves soon too!~~Dee

  2. bittster says:

    In my opinion anyone who gardens (assuming they don’t douse the entire yard with poison) is already making their corner of the planet a better place. Better to save their energy for judging the next brand new acre or two of parking lot… that’s where I think the pollinators are really losing.
    Hope you get some rain. We’re still solidly frozen, but even here it feels less like winter with each passing week.
    -and when I do clean up I’ll be getting rid of all the phlox stalks. Better safe than sorry.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I feel exactly the same way. I think we’re all trying to make the world more beautiful whether we grow veggies, flowers or a combination of the two. Thanks for your kind words. We may get some snow next Tuesday. I would rather have rain though.

  3. sweetbay103 says:

    One year I put off cutting back because of overwintering birds, and by May I still wasn’t finished cutting back. I wish I could wave a magic wand and clear all of the old stalks once they’ve served their purpose but it doesn’t work that way.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh me too Sweetbay, me too. I’ve waited to my chagrin, and I’ve also wished for a magic wand, or a rain wand many times.

  4. Richard Smith says:

    Internet searches have led me to your interesting site several times over the past several months and I’ve just reviewed your greenhouse suggestions which are helpful. We are in McAlester, OK making your suggestions particularly relevant. I plan to add a greenhouse soon and appreciate the benefit of your experience. And fwiw I’ve kept your post on “Annabelle” hydrangea in my bookmarks list for reference. I grew up in Southern Illinois and went to school in Carbondale, near Anna where “Annabelle” was discovered. I will finally add it to my garden this year. Thank you for maintaining the site.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Richard, it appears your comment was in moderation. I’ve now moved it to approved comments. I love your story about Annabelle, and I’m always glad to help. If you search a topic in the sidebar, you should find more information about whatever topic you’re learning about. Thanks so much for stopping by.~~Dee

  5. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I chuckled at “the roses and I are completely confused”. I’m singing that song down here on my corner of Katy, too.

  6. Gail says:

    I’ve been relocating oak leaves that have blown in from neighbors yards. They are smothering my lavender.The Lavender was unhappy and so was I. Thank you for the linkage and folks, Phlox bug is devastating to Phlox. It could come in on a plant from a nursery, so make a practice of throwing the stems in the trash not your compost.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, Gail, I should’ve made that even more clear. Don’t put the dead phlox stalks in the compost pile if you have that blasted bug. We want them to go far, far away. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    On those weirdly warm days I have been outside doing a little cutting down; turning the compost pile, but not much else. Dreaming mostly, making big plans that I will probably not carry out and chillin. Waiting for the real thaw.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, did you buy any seeds yet?

  8. Just keep working at it! Your garden looked beautiful last summer and I am sure it will again this year 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much!

  9. Peggy Zortman says:

    We are needing moisture here in southwest Kansas too. Everyone is so worried about fire with the winds we have. We had to have a new septic put in in December so I’m looking at berms of dirt they promised would sink into the ground wondering what kind of periennials to plant over the leach field.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Peggy, we can only hope we’ll get rain soon. I also have septic tanks here. My understanding is you don’t want to plant anything with deep roots because they can get into the field. However, almost 30 years ago, I planted a magnolia tree near my septic field, and I haven’t had any problems. It’s grown richly too. Ha!

  10. Oh dear, of course you do your best. What Kathy said, and I agree: It’s all about balance. I know I’m doing many things “wrong” or what is considered “wrong” these days for gardening, but tomorrow it will probably be “right.” Peace, dear Dee. I’m jealous: My garden is cold, very cold. I probably won’t get anything done in the actual garden until March. Until then, I will plant seeds and dream, and read your blog. 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Much love from Oklahoma Beth. It’s cold here today too. We’ve had some wonderful weather, but now, not so much.~~Dee

  11. Sonia says:

    I’m so glad you got a head start on your garden and cutting things back. It takes me several weeks to get mine done. Oh I wanted to get out there so bad on Sunday but we went to Tulsa(Costco) so we could order my first (little) greenhouse. I’ll be needing advice about how you manage yours in our Oklahoma weather. My husband is putting it together so it will take him awhile. I think I’ll do a step by step on my blog of his progress. I’m so wanting Spring to hurry and get here! I did go out and water a few areas because it’s so dry. I’m praying for rain too! Happy Gardening!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Sonia, congrats on your greenhouse! How exciting! If you search in my sidebar about greenhouses, you’ll get all my best info. Basically, make sure you have double heat so that if one fails, you have a backup. I’d love to see a step-by-step of his progress on your new structure. Yay!

  12. Carol says:

    Great advice, Dee. People get so much conflicting advice about how to garden, it’s a wonder they don’t just quit. But your advice is great… simplify, do a little at a time…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yup Carol, you are so right. 😀

  13. Hi,

    Google tells me 68 fahrenheit is 20c. It’s about 6 to 10c during the day at the moment in London (about 45 fahrenheit?), but I’ve noticed lots of hedge trimming and tidying at the moment here too though – especially where I work in Kensington. Getting the structural work done while things are as dormant as they get. I don’t think we’ve gone much below freezing this year.
    No snow, disappointingly.

    But the snowdrops are coming up in Kensington Gardens now, and the cyclamen and celandines and tiny alpine purple iris. Everything very small and delicate and low to the ground at this time of year.

    Anyway I’ll send up a small prayer to any gods listening that they send some of our London drizzle your way.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Victoria, since the snowdrops are coming up and starting to bloom, spring can’t be too far away, right? So, you’re temps sound pretty normal for a Kensington winter. We’ve been quite warm, but with cold snaps. I’d love some of your drizzle. I really, really would. Thanks!

  14. Lucy Corrander says:

    What have I been doing? Being not in Oklahoma, I’ve been preparing raspberry beds in the snow.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Raspberries, yum…..

  15. I imagine the pollinators overwintering in dead stalks can continue to overwinter in the compost pile. Hope you get rain soon!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Kathy, supposedly they won’t come out of the stalks unless the stems remain upright. Who knew? I guess some of them won’t emerge here, but I still have to get some work done when I can. I hope we get rain soon too. Fire danger is everywhere.

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