Winter Heaven

The only good thing about Winter is that I don't have to do anything at all, except to head outside after a good snowfall and remove as much of the snow as possible from the shrubs to prevent them from breaking, or getting permanently bent out of shape. Having gotten most of the garden clean-up work done in the Fall, I know that Spring will be a simpler time, a time to sit back and enjoy the blooms.

Right now, the garden looks bare, but hardly ugly. A few clusters of stalks stick up to indicate where plants may come up in the Spring. But the quietness means, indeed less work, a happy thought for us lazy gardeners, who can instead spend our time contentedly dreaming and planning.

Dealing with the Snow

Last year, we had a humongous snowstorm on Presidents' Day weekend. Will we have the same this year? I hope not! In any case, I bought a new shovel, and have stocked up on sand and cat litter.

I don't like to use de-icing salts on the driveway. They tend to get both into the storm water system, and into the surrounding lawn and garden bed areas, and do neither of them any good. I use sand to improve traction. Cat litter? It contains clay, and it does two things: it absorbs heat, and it absorbs water. The chunks help improve traction, and they help melt the ice (although, slowly).

I try to keep an eye on the snow accumulation and coordinate snow removal with the weather. At the point when it stops snowing and the winds start to pick up and start drying out the area, I make sure the driveway has been cleared. The winds will do the rest for me.

Best thing to do (trust me): shovel frequently, when the snow is only a couple of inches high. You can just push the shovel along the hardscapes without doing a lot of bending and lifting. If you wait, it's very hard (especially when you don't weigh a lot) to push a huge amount of snow.

If you do need to lift up shovels full of snow, to avoid straining your back, keep your back reasonably straight, and get closer to the ground by bending your knees. Let your legs, and not your back, do the work of lifting the snow.

I have two kinds of shovels. One is a broad lightweight snow shovel, for pushing and lifting snow. The other is really a flat-edged digging tool of heavy-duty stainless (so they say) steel. When there is ice, this is very useful for chipping it. Yes, I know that's not the normal usage of the tool, but it works. I have observed that under ice there sometimes is an air gap, or a film of water, if the ground is a little warmer. When this is the case, giving the ice a hard tap can break it up, making it easier to push or lift out of the way. The sooner it's gone, the better.

Safe shoveling!

Vanquishing the Noxious

At this time of the year, some of you may have used for decoration plants like Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). For those of you who do not know what it looks like, in dried form, its fruits are small and yellow and orange/red - quite colorful - on the dried vines. They do make great dried decorations. Unfortunately, when you toss these into the garden or into the compost heap, they may sprout and spread. Exercise caution when disposing of them.

For more information on this and other noxious plants, check out:

Winter is also a good time of the year to remove some of these plants, because they may be more accessible without their leaves.

To Clean or Not to Clean?

If your plants didn't have any serious diseases or infestations, then it's fine to leave your garden debris on the ground. However, if you have a persistent fungal problem in the garden, cleaning up the debris can only help, as fungal inoculum can often remain in the litter over the winter, to be splashed back onto the plant in the Spring and re-infect the plant.

You first need to find out what kind of problem you have, and whether it overwinters to re-infect/re-infest in the spring. For example, a common fungal pathogen of pine trees is Sphaeropsis Tip Blight of Pine. It usually infests two-needled pines like Austrian Pines. If you drive along I-95 (if I remember the road correctly) north, you might see signs of dead pine trees. These are Austrian pines, and this is what happens to them over time if the problem is not managed. To manage the problem (manage, not eliminate), rake up all nearby pine cones and pine needles frequently. If you need to mulch, use clean mulch applied after raking up the needles. The fungal fruiting bodies live in the base of fallen pine needles and pine cones, and release spores in the Spring, to re-infect the lower branches of the tree.

On the other hand, there are very few fungal problems infesting White Pines, so leaving the fallen needles helps to mulch the ground under the tree. Again, you need to know what kind of problem you are dealing with.

In the vegetable garden, adult Squash Bugs like to overwinter in garden debris, to emerge in Spring and start laying eggs. If you have had these visitors, you can reduce the subsequent population by cleaning up garden debris and throwing the bugs out.

For more tips on managing pests and diseases in the garden, check out:

© Iris H. Mars, 2004.