Check Your Winter Precipitation Levels and Burlapped Shrubs

WinterPrecipitationFlickrdaryl_mitchell

Instead of staying cooped up inside and forgetting about your garden, take a minute to think about how much winter precipitation you have had so far. If you have wrapped evergreen shrubs in burlap for protection, now is also a good time to go outside on one of the milder days and see how they are doing.

Winter Precipitation Check

One task that you can do now while you wait for your garden to come alive again in the spring is to check your winter precipitation levels. You may want to place a rain gauge or weather station in your garden to help you keep track of how much precipitation you have received. You can also watch the exact amounts accrued through websites like weather.com.

We do not often think about watering our plants during the winter, but it may be necessary if the temperatures have been warmer than usual and there has not been much snow or rain.  If it has been a few weeks since you have had either and the temperatures are in the 40s, give them some water. Do not leave it until later in the afternoon in case freezing temperatures set in and cause damage to the wet plants.

Burlap Shrub Inspection

Inspect any of your evergreen shrubs that are wrapped in burlap for protection. If there is snow present, you can gently shake it off because heavy snow accumulation can add pressure to the branches and cause them to break. You don’t want to be too forceful with the removal, though, or that act itself will cause damage.

How much snow or rain have you had so far?

Image by daryl_mitchell under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Watch for Signs of Trouble in Your Winter Landscape

Snow can be rough and break tree branches

Even though the winter landscape is a bit quiet overall, there are still steps you can take to make sure your garden is in proper shape and ready for the next growing season. Two problems that yards may face are broken limbs and the presence of frozen puddles.

Broken Limbs?

A common cause of broken tree branches is snow or ice accumulation. When the branches are weighted down after a storm, the stress can cause them to break. You have to be careful with branches that are covered with snow. If it is not frozen and icy, you could try lightly using a broom handle or other similar tool from underneath to knock some of the heavy snow off. This action can actually cause a branch to break also, so care should be exercised when doing this and avoid when possible. If it is covered with ice, it is even more likely for damage to occur and you should let nature take its course.

If you do have a tree branch that is broken, assess the situation. If it looks like it is in a dangerous position (hanging by a small bit, for example or a large branch), call a professional to help properly remove it. Otherwise, leave it alone until spring. If the damage is too extensive, you may end up needing to remove the tree, but get a consultation to see if that is a good idea before going forward.

Frozen Puddles?

You may not immediately think of a frozen puddle as anything more than the potential for falls. After all, it’s winter and snow, rain and slush are commonly present. Frozen puddles in a certain area, especially if they are recurring, may be a sign that there is a drainage problem present. Take note of where it is located and do a soil drainage test in the spring once temperatures warm up.

Image by huipiiing under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Cutting Back Perennials

Irises can be cut back in the fall

Irises can be cut back in the fall

If you are still looking to work on your garden even after your final cleanup, you could try cutting back perennials. Many of them can be pruned either in fall or spring. This can help your landscape look more attractive if the leaves are dead and drooping. It can also keep the plant healthier since some pests and diseases tend to attack the plant or use it as a cozy home until winter is over.

First, you need to determine if you should be cutting back each perennial in fall or spring. If you have one with attractive fruit or foliage, you will likely want to leave it alone to keep the four season interest going. If it has seedheads present, these will help visiting wildlife survive through the winter. 

If you do decide that you need to do some pruning, Cornell University says to “cut back most perennials to about 3 inches from the ground. Any closer may damage crowns.” Use a sharp pair of hand pruners or loppers to trim away. Clean up all of the foliage that you remove to discourage diseases and pests.

Examples of Perennials to Cut Back in Fall:

  • Bearded iris
  • Bee balm
  • Brunnera
  • Daylily
  • Peony
  • Phlox
  • Siberian iris
  • Veronica

Examples of Perennials to Cut Back in Spring:

  • Bishop’s hat
  • Dianthus
  • European ginger
  • Fern
  • Hardy geranium
  • Hellebore
  • Heuchera
  • Lenten rose
  • Moss phlox
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Some sedums

Are you cutting back perennials in fall or spring? What has worked best in your garden?

Image by Vanessa Myers

Live Holiday Trees

LiveHolidayTreesFlickrMSVG When my husband and I were first married, we lived in a dumpy basement apartment. It seemed pretty glum to me sometimes since there wasn’t much light and we didn’t have a yard of our own. When our first Christmas came, I decided that I wanted to have a live holiday tree. I ended up picking out a small Norfolk Island pine and it did make the place more cheery. Live holiday trees are slowly becoming more common, though they are still not used as much as cut or artificial trees. You can purchase them at your local garden center or order them online. There are even services that will allow you to rent one. Some take care of details like delivery, setup and pickup. Some Advantages Are:

  • You can plant it outside or use it as a houseplant afterwards. They are perfect if you only have a small space.
  • You don’t throw it away after the season is done, like a cut tree.
  • It is not manufactured with toxic materials, like artificial ones are sometimes.
  • You get at least a little more oxygen added to the air in your household.
  • It feels even more like nature since it is still living.

Some Common Live Holiday Trees:

  • Aleppo Pine
  • Fir Trees
  • Norfolk Island Pine
  • Palm Trees
  • Rosemary Topiary
  • Southern Red Cedar
  • Spruce Trees

You can use any tree, though, for a short period of time as long as it fits into the space inside and you have somewhere to plant it afterwards. Things to Consider:

  • Have you been working out lately? Tall potted plants can weigh a lot. Think about how much you really want to be moving around.
  • Make sure you have a spot all prepped for planting (hole dug, etc.) if it will be moved outdoors. This is especially important if you expect the ground to freeze.
  • You really only have about a week to work with if you live in a cooler area and intend to plant the tree outside. It will start to come alive again from its winter’s nap, which will be very confusing and detrimental when you take it back outside.
  • Make sure that you water it. It won’t dry out as fast as a cut tree, but it is living, after all.

Have you had a live holiday tree? What kind? Image by MSVG via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Final Garden Cleanup for the Year

WinterGardenCleanupFlickrliketearsintherain

We are only a couple of weeks away from the official start of winter. The end of the gardening season is upon us and you should perform a final garden cleanup to end the year right. This will allow you to have the satisfaction of knowing that your garden will get the best possible start in spring when the world comes alive again.

By now you should have already done fall landscaping tasks like:

Close off the gardening season with one final inspection of your yard. Walk around the perimeter and check for signs of problems like broken sprinkler heads. If more leaves have fallen, take a moment to rake them up. They can be stored for later use as mulch or placed in a compost pile. Check for any tools like shovels that have been accidently left outside and put them away so that they do not rust from snowy conditions. Throw away or recycle leftover pots.

If you have not done so in the past, this can also be a good time to take a moment to map out the current layout of your garden on a piece of graph paper. This will allow you to do some planning during the winter months of any changes that you would like to make.

Have you done your final garden cleanup of the year yet? What other tasks do you perform as part of this?

Image by liketearsintherain under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Are You Winterizing Your Equipment Yet?

WinterizingEquipmentFlickrtheCCLC

Part of your fall cleanup efforts should be directed towards winterizing your equipment. This is a good time to check over everything for broken parts and get it prepped for the following year. You also want to help protect them from the impending weather where conditions can be wet and freezing.

Sprinkler System

First, you should drain out all of the water that you can as any that is left has the potential to freeze and break the pipes. The system needs to be blown out using an air compressor. This step is best done by professionals since it can be dangerous. A heavy-duty air compressor is used to force air throughout the system and push the water out. Follow the safety guidelines presented on this site if you decide to do it yourself, including wearing safety goggles and not standing near the section that is being cleared out.

Lawn Mower and Other Power Equipment

Take a moment to clean it all off. Remove any grass or other organic substances. Check to make sure that all parts are functioning and change them out as needed. As this article from Consumer Reports mentions, you will want to change out the oil and either take out all of the gas or add a stabilizer. Sharpen the edges of the blades since dull ones will hack and tear grass instead of cleanly cutting it. If there is a battery, take it out and store it somewhere cool and dry. Keep the mower itself in a location with a similar environment.

Pruning Tools

Clean off the blades thoroughly. Gummy substances can be removed with a bit of citrus oil. Look the tool over to see if any parts are broken and replace them as possible. Use a sharpening stone or tool to go over dull blades. Rub oil over any parts that are metal to help keep rust away.

Image by theCCLC via Flickr CreativeCommons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Get Ready for Snow Removal!

SnowremovalFlickrmueritz

December is almost upon us and it’s definitely time to make sure your snow removal arsenal is in place. There are three common ways that you can use to keep your driveaways and sidewalks clear, making it safer and easier to move around your front yard.

Shoveling
I am no stranger to shoveling snow; in college, the winter portion of my job on a landscaping crew consisted of scraping away the sidewalks (often quite early in the morning) so that students could arrive at class safely. I even did it barefoot once around my house so that I could say I did and horrify people like my Southern Californian family.

Use caution when you are using a snow shovel. This is strenuous exercise and can be quite harmful if you are out of shape or have certain health issues like coronary disease, as this Yahoo! Health article advises. They also warn that you should not shovel snow between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. to avoid the greatest risk of heart attacks and other problems.  Don’t try to be a hero by grabbing the biggest shovel possible and scooping up massive loads of snow; you will likely end up with pains and injuries that way.

You may also want to use a deicer….

Salts/Chemicals
Our condo complex keeps buckets of deicing salts around every staircase. These can be placed on the stairs and sidewalks to help with snow removal and melting the ice that accumulates and creates a dangerous situation.

You do need to use caution when using these products. Over time, the salts can collect around your plants and burn them. They are also strong enough to damage anything that is made of concrete. There are some types of chemicals that do not contain salt and will be easier on your yard.

Snowblowers
If you have a large yard and want to move snow quickly, get a snowblower. These machines are designed to blow away the snow as you push it along. They can be much quicker than a shovel or chemical. Since this is a machine being used in bad weather, use it carefully. Read the instruction manual to figure out where the dead man’s switch is located to shut it down safely and quickly should something fail. Turn it off completely before you remove any obstructions. Make sure you perform yearly maintenance to keep it in working order.

What method(s) do you use for your snow removal?

Image by mueritz under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Late Fall Lawn Seeding

RakingOutGrassFlickrnociveglia

Prepare your lawn by raking the areas where you wish to plant.

Winter is almost here and for the most part, your garden is ready to go to sleep until the next growing season. If your lawn is still a bit bare, though, this is the time when you can do some late fall lawn seeding! This process is also known as dormant seeding.

Your goal at this time is not to get a new lawn growing. In fact, if the seeds did start to sprout, they would almost certainly be killed when winter’s frosts hit. Instead, you are trying to get a jump start on next year’s lawn by adding seeds now that will germinate when the time is right. Place them just before the time when the ground freezes for the season. This will hopefully allow them to lay dormant throughout the cold months and be ready to awaken when the temperatures rise in spring.

Do start by preparing the patches of ground where you want to place the seeds. Make sure that the seeds are able to reach the soil and start germination. Your bag of seeds will tell you how many pounds are needed for every 1000 square feet. Once you are done spreading the seeds, irrigate the area lightly. If it is too wet, though, the possibility of problems like rots increases. 

If all goes well (a lot is up to Mother Nature in this case!), you will have an improved lawn once spring arrives and your landscape bursts back into life. 

Have you done a late fall lawn seeding? How well did it turn out?

Image by Nociveglia via a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Plant Your Spring Flowering Bulbs in Autumn

IMG_0003

Winter can be pretty depressing sometimes for a plant lover like myself since so many of them have died or gone dormant and the landscape is blanketed with snow. Towards the end of the season, though, I get to witness lovely surprises like the first buds swelling on the trees and crocus leaves and flowers peeping up through the snow or bare ground. When you plant the crocus and other spring flowering bulbs in autumn, you are preparing the way for a beautiful color show in late winter and spring.

 Common Spring Flowering Bulbs That Should Be Planted in Autumn:

  • Crocus
  • Daffodils
  • Garlic (separate the cloves before planting)
  • Hyacinth
  • Snowdrops
  • Tulips

Make sure that you give your bulbs a chance to get some roots forming during the fall before winter hits and everything slows down. Plant them before the ground becomes frozen.You will want to water them a little so that the plant can function, but not enough that the soil is very moist since this increases the chances that the bulb may rot before it can really get growing.

You should first inspect and test your potential planting site. Send a soil sample to a soil laboratory so you can check the nutrient levels present. This will tell you how much is currently present so you can buy the right kind of fertilizer. This should be worked into the ground so that the roots will be able to reach and use the nutrients. You will especially want to be aware of your phosphorus levels as this is necessary for the best possible flowers.

When you plant spring flowering bulbs, they should usually be placed in a hole that is either two or three times the length of the bulb. Check the package for planting instructions to be sure for your specific kind. Look at the bulb and place it so that the tip is upward and the roots positioned downward.

What is your favorite kind of bulb to plant?

Image by katerha under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Plan on Fertilizing Your Lawn in Fall by November 30th

FallFertilizationFlickr shaire productions

When we fertilize our lawns, we think of spring as the best time to perform this task. Fall does not seem like a likely time since the growing world is slowing down and plants are getting ready to go dormant. However, fertilizing your lawn in fall is actually one of the best things you can do to help your grass stay healthy.

During autumn, plants are busy trying to store up food to get through the cold temperatures of winter. Fertilizing your lawn in fall boosts their storage potential and makes it more likely that your grass will survive until spring. You want to perform this before it really gets too cold, however, so perform this task by November 30th each year.

As always, a good test to perform before you do any fertilizing is an assessment of the nutrient levels that are currently found in the soil. Adding too much is wasteful and can even potentially harm your plants. You can buy a simple test at your local garden center or nursery. For more detailed results, you can send off a sample to a testing laboratory like Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory or your local cooperative extension service.

As Cornell University advises, you should use “1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. (1 lb. N/1,000 ft.2). Use a fertilizer that is about 70 percent slow-release nitrogen” Once you have applied the nutrients, water your lawn so that the fertilizer can travel down into the soil. 

As always, feel free to give us a call if you would like us to do your fall lawn fertilization this year.

Image by shaire productions via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License