“Flower” the leader…..makin a list, checking it twice

You know it’s coming…..old man winter is on his way determined to put an end to the gardening season. Of course die hards like me will be out there with a pick axe in December trying to plant flower bulbs I got on clearance……unwilling to throw in the “trowel.” I took this picture in Canada last August, and it reminds me of the air that will arrive when the winds come from the north in November. I also inserted the picture below of tulips in my landscape taken during the month of April. We’ve had snow the past two April’s in a row in Michigan. The snow capped tulips below look like small lemon meringue pies (I love the pies, hate the cold weather). It’s a good reminder that winters in Michigan can be 6 months long despite what the calendar says, starting in November and holding on into April. As gardeners, winter can seem impossibly long, but at this time of year we have to acknowledge it’s inevitability, and prepare. That’s when you have to “flower” the leader, you know, the guy in your neighborhood who always seems to have his yard, garage, equipment and life in order. He cleans his tools after every use and waxes and polishes the mower before putting it away for winter. That’s not me, but every neighborhood has someone like that…..a leader setting the standard of our good intentions. You can watch what he does and “flower” the leader……or you can look at my list of suggested projects and at least give some of the items the old college try…… I’m makin the list, and checking it twice, not to make you feel guilty, just trying to be nice! (Hoe, Hoe, Hoe)

1. Make the last cut of the lawn in November shorter than during the growing season. This will keep the grass from laying flat under the snow which can add to snow mold problems in spring. Cutting it shorter will help guard against vole damage also under the cover of snow. 2. Remove leaves from turf areas to prevent matting. Consider grinding them up into “bite size” pieces to use as a natural mulch in garden areas. (See “Headline Snooze” on my website) Some chopped up leaves can be left on the turf without causing damage. 3. With all the natural resources at your fingertips and time on your hands, it might be a great time to start composting, even if it is a half-hearted attempt at passive composting. Don’t lose your “composture” it’s never too late to start! 4. The trees will “root” for you if you pay attention to them. Feed deciduous trees around the base with Tree Tone (available at Flowerland), the soil is warm enough for root action. Then wrap the trunks of young trees with tree wrap to prevent splitting in winter. That’s right, regardless of the type of music you prefer, you’re going to have (w)rap, imagine that! Check it out in the attached You Tube “clipping”

Finally, plan to do some dormant pruning to open up the tree canopy, looking to take out weak or crossing branches when the leaves are off the tree. 5. Place mechanical barriers around plants prone to deer and rabbit damage. Some chicken wire around that prized burning bush (#1 on a rabbit’s winter menu) might save some “hare” raising frustration on your part next spring. 6. Give plants under soffit areas a good deep watering so they don’t go into winter dry. 7. Spray broadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons with Wilt Stop to prevent winter desiccation. Burlap screens also could be used. 8. Continue to plant flowering bulbs and landscape plants. It’s low stress for the plants and low stress for your wallet, many clearance specials at the garden center. You’ll have a green thumb from all the currency you save. 9. Empty and tip pots upside down so they don’t collect water which expands when it freezes resulting in a cracked pot! Lay down or store fountains also, and bring pumps indoors for storage. 10. Disconnect hoses from outdoor water faucets to avoid frozen cracked pipes. 11. Place dryer sheets in and around store equipment to avoid mouse damage. Set mouse traps in sheds and garage areas. 12. Put fuel stabilizer in the gas tanks of stored equipment to stop formation of varnish and prevent corrosion. 13. Winterize irrigation systems. 14. Mound soil around the bases of roses. Don’t be too anxious to winterize roses, they need time to shut down, usually around Thanksgiving day. 15. A layer of mulch helps stabilize soil temperatures surrounding landscaped plants, and can help avoid “heaving” of new plantings like perennials during the winter as the soil freezes and thaws. 16. Get out your extension cords and position them on a nice day……you know how it goes, the day you plan to hang up Christmas lights (electric ivy) we’ll get 4 inches of snow that day. Nice weather for decorating keeps things jolly if you know what I mean. 17. Place visual stakes of driveway and sidewalk edges to ensure “lawngevity” of turf edges during plowing season. 18. Some larger landscape plants that have overgrown the area they are planted can be safely moved at this time of the year. It’s easier for you and the plants to move them at this time of the year. 19. If you got out of the habit of feeding birds this past summer, clean your feeders and fill with fresh feed. Our feathered friends will add much needed life and color to the landscape this winter. 20. Take your time cutting back perennials and cleaning beds. Some perennials like Sedums or Ornamental grasses look nice above the snow line in winter. I stretch the pruning and cleaning out from October to April. Woody plants like Butterfly bush look pretty above the snow line, I usually prune them back when I get around to it. Be careful not to prune woody shrubs that bloom in spring like Lilacs, you’ll be taking out next year’s blooms. Same for Macrophylla Hydrangeas that bloom on the previous year’s wood. 21. Mark your calendar to bring equipment in for maintainence to a dealer in January. At that time of the year they are looking for work and will pay close attention to your needs, they might even wax, shine and polish your mower before getting it back to you! 22. Lift and store tender bulbs like Cannas and Dahlias in a cool (45 degree) basement area. Label, and allow soil to dry off the tubers and rhizomes, gently shaking the soil off before storing in vermiculite or peat. 23. Pay attention to tender plants brought inside from the deck that have now become “houseplants.” Don’t overwater now that available light and humidity has greatly decreased. Also use some Houseplant insect granules applied to the soil for systemic control of insects like aphids. Don’t over water the plants or you’ll be dealing with fungus gnats and rotting root systems. 24. Keep a light weight poly shovel in the garage to clear snow away from specimen and prized plants in the landscape to expose would be rodents like voles to predators. 25.  Clean up brush piles, debris, log piles, mow down long grass in field areas to again minimize hiding or operating areas for voles, rabbits and other hungry landscape wreckers! 

Dig in on your work list in late fall and early winter, your neighbors will notice as you demonstrate leadership skills you didn’t know you had……you just might develop a “flowering!”

 

Good grief Charlie Brown……what’s wrong with my tree?

A common inquiry in October is why is my evergreen shedding needles? People “pine” for an answer to why their evergreen is turning color. A White Pine for example will drop needles dramatically from the interior, with needles turning yellow, then straw or brown color. Some people lose their “composture” thinking the tree is diseased, has insects or destined to be……good grief, a Charlie Brown tree! It’s important to understand that “evergreen” trees if healthy stay ever green, but the needles are not ever green. Each year evergreen trees will produce new foliage and shed some of their old foliage. The amount of shedding depends on the type of evergreen species. The most dramatic can be White Pine and Arborvitae which shed 1 year old needles and keep the new growth from earlier in the year. Most Pine trees retain needles for 3 to 5 years, keeping 3 to 5 years worth of needles on the tree at one time. White Pine is so dramatic because it sheds many of those 1 year old needles in October. It’s a good idea to rake up some of those needles to use as a mulch in your landscape, especially around plants like Holly, Azalea and Rhododendron. In summary, while deciduous trees drop all their leaves in fall, evergreens drop a portion of their needles in October……that’s why they call it “fall” right? The reality is all evergreens shed some of their needles, but some do it less dramatically retaining needles for up to 5 or 6 years like Spruce or Fir. The needle shedding goes unnoticed when new growth conceals old foliage shedding on the interior of the plant. If the needle drop occurs in October, odds are it is just the natural order of things. If needle drop occurs at a different time or is unusually heavy, it could be an indication of bigger problems like transplant shock, root damage, nutrient problems or drought.  In most cases, it’s just nature taking it’s course. Remember, even broadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons will shed some of their old leaves. So relax as your tree exhibits some Charlie Brown characteristics…….before you know it, the snow will be flying and you’ll be stringing Christmas lights on that trusty old Pine!