Garden Tips | January 4, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - January 4, 2013

Garden Tips

Time to plan, prune and clean up garden beds

by Jack McKinnon

I'm still cold, wet and bare in the garden. Well, not completely bare; I wear my swim trunks. I found that if I wear Teva sandals and swim trunks along with my Gore-Tex jacket then I don't get my pants and boots soaked. It's a little chilly from the waist down but sure is easier to dry out when I go in.

Now that the big holidays are gone we sit and wonder what will come in the spring. Will it be wildflowers, bulbs, roses and fruit or will it be weeds, invasive grasses, gophers and more mud? Who knows? What is important is that for now we can plan and dream and get on with our chores.

I am still pruning and doing clean-up jobs and soon will be getting calls for more personal garden coaching. I look forward to inspiring homeowners to see the light and the colors of spring to come. Here are this month's tips:

1. If you haven't done your pruning this is the perfect time. Remove the worst first including dead, dying and diseased branches. This practice for me takes a lot of the pressure of shaping and thinning off. After clean up, stand back and become an artist.

2. Thin out tangling and crossing branches along with excess vines and wisteria tendrils. Don't be afraid to be bold (unless of course it is going to threaten your marriage).

3. Visit several nurseries when you are out and about. Ask when the spring flowers in six-packs will arrive and if they have already, then buy some.

4. If you grow vegetables, now is the time to clean out and prepare your beds. Add new compost and dig it in throwing in some fertilizer as well. For organic fertilizers I like to go to Common Ground in Palo Alto for bulk selections. I make two trips to Common Ground for fertilizers. The first is to write down what they have (like alfalfa meal, bat guano, etc.) and the second trip after looking up all the different ones online to see if I want them and how much to use and buy.

5. Pull weeds early. It seems a simple concept but is so valuable to the garden on the whole. If you get them small it is easier and decreases the likelihood they will re-produce. I did clean-up for one landscape architect in Palo Alto who had me leave everything where I pulled it. Just shake off the soil and drop them on the ground to become mulch.

6. Invite friends to talk with about what you are doing in your gardens. This is a good opportunity to catch up on life in general and have some coffee and pastries without guilt.

7. Keep an eye on the neighborhood and see what others are doing. It is OK to borrow ideas or if you are really brazen steal them. Just don't be too obvious — it is bad form.

8. Visit gardens like Filoli in Woodside, Gamble Garden in Palo Alto and San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park for ideas. Of course Sunset Magazine in Menlo Park has been an icon of gardening inspiration for decades.

9. Plant wildflower seeds by sowing in open areas and covering with a thin layer of fine soil or mulch. They will naturalize but it won't hurt to water them if no rain comes for three weeks.

10. Go out into your garden. Make it a habit to take a walk in the morning or when you get home from work. We live in one of the best gardening zones on the planet and may as well appreciate it.

Good gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687 (cell), by email at Visit his website at


Posted by Julia Carlson, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 23, 2014 at 7:08 pm

My mom always taught me to pull weeds early. Every morning of my summers growing up was spent in the garden pulling weeds. Pulling them when they're small is easy. Big ones are tough.
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