No Time to Snooze: Wintertime Gardening Tasks
In the wintertime, there's still much to do to in your garden and your home to keep your plants protected.
You may be thinking that winter is the time to stay inside and cuddle up in front of the fire or TV, but there are a few things you should be doing to ensure that plants make it through the cold winter.
Without all the foliage on the branches, now is a good time to prune any dead, diseased, crossing or rubbing branches and suckers from trees and shrubs. Remember to clean and sharpen your cutting tools before and after pruning.
Since winter time temperatures in our area are constantly fluctuating from near zero to fifty degrees, smaller newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials that haven’t had roots established can heave out of the ground exposing roots to potential freezing damage and death.
Snow, ice and salt
Gently push them back down and lightly cover the root base with a three inch layer of mulch such as shredded wood, straw, leaves or evergreen branches. Remember to remove these (or push away from the crown) once warmer temperatures have come to stay.
Branches that are weighted down with a heavy snow can be brushed off very gently. Don’t smack these branches with a broom. You will cause more damage by breaking the frozen branches, particularly evergreens.
If branches are covered in a thin layer of ice, leave them as is and let the ice melt off naturally. Hard wood trees like oak should survive the weight, but soft wood trees like birch can and possibly will break, but these often break on a windy day anyway. It’s best just to leave them alone.
Keep road and sidewalk salt away from plants. Too much salt is similar to over fertilizing and will kill plants. If you suspect that during a snow or ice storm salt was shoveled onto your planting area, the next sunny, warmer day when the ground begins to thaw, water down the area to dilute the concentration of salt. This may or may not help depending on how much salt was added but it’s always worth a try to keep a valued plant.
When your plants become snack food
During long cold spells where a natural food source in unavailable, animals can damage young trees and shrubs by eating the bark around the trunk. Depending on how much bark has been removed, the plant can be seriously stressed or even die.
Once a plant is stressed it can attract other pests that will continue to damage the plant. Use fencing, screening or expandable protective wrap around the base, about 24” high, to keep rabbits and other small rodents from eating the bark. Don’t use a protective wrap that is tightly wound around the trunk, but if you do, remember to remove it once warm weather arrives or it will cause other damage.
Consider adding four-season plants to your landscape this coming spring. There are many that offer winter berries, seeds, especially sunflower, and pods for birds and other wildlife to enjoy. Cherry, Crabapple, Pyracantha, Hackberry, Winterberry and Serviceberry are just a few berry producing trees and shrubs that birds like. So think about planting a few of these in your yard this year.
The green indoors
Tropical plants that are over-wintering in your house need to be watched not to dry out. Check for potential insects. These plants are used to the hot humid summers and are now indoors where the air is typically very dry. Keep them watered more frequently than your regular houseplants and occasionally spritz the foliage with a fine mist of water to create a little humidity around the plant.
You can keep the tropical plants in a cluster and place a small humidifier in between them and have it run for a few hours every day.
Regarding insects, I prefer not to use a spray so I hang one or two sticky yellow pest cards, that you can find at a garden center, near the foliage to catch flying insects such as white fly. You can take a metal hanger and bend it to create a hook to hang the sticky card. These really help out a lot.
Generally speaking, nature has a better grip on survival than we do. Our good intentions are not always well thought out. Hopefully we don’t repeat our mistakes.
These are only a few suggestions. For more information, visit the Missouri Botanical website: www.mobot.org.
If you are interested in gardening, learning about gardening or joining a garden club, stop by the Community Association Clubhouse, the second Monday morning of each month and sit in on a meeting of the Jardin du Lac Garden Club. Meetings start at 9:30 a.m.