Cold days of winter are good for the gardening season ahead
Our backyard scenery just now is the pure white of blankets of snow, the pale blue of the cold January sky and the dazzling brightness of the winter sun…when it chooses to appear. The branches of the trees and shrubs etch dark patterns against all that whiteness.
And, when big, wet snow flakes begin to drift lazily down on the landscape, they add a surreal touch to our winter world. Snow seems to have a quieting effect on everything and a good covering of snow is an excellent protection through the deep cold of winter for the plants lying dormant under the soil.
As a gardener, I realize that the cold days of winter are a good thing for the gardening season ahead. A host of garden pests over-winter each year under the bark of trees, in dead grasses and in the upper layers of the ground. Some of these pests include grasshoppers, slugs, Japanese beetles, cutworms, rootworms, and etc.
These garden thugs live through the winter in different forms such as eggs, larvae, and adults. We really need periods of colder temperatures to kill off some of these critters and keep their numbers down. Overly mild winters can lead to lots of pests the following spring, so periods of very cold, winter weather can be a real asset for the gardening season ahead.
I am noticing that the cold and snow cover are bringing a myriad of birds to backyard feeders looking for the extra food they need to weather the winter months. Our variety of feathered “customers” have challenged us to come up with some new ideas on keeping them fed while keeping the costs down.
We like to keep a large, rubber waste can near our back door filled with a basic mix of chick scratch feed, black oil sunflowers and wild-bird seed. To this basic mix we add (when we have them available) peanuts, popcorn, thistle seed and raisins, as we have mockingbirds this year and they enjoy fruits.
We also add (when available) bread, cake, donut chunks and cereal, cracker, and cookie crumbs or any other grain-based leftovers. We’ve noticed that the birds are much more willing to eat off the ground and a sheltered area near a shrub, tree, fence or wall works well as a feeding station when the weather is rough.
Cobs of field corn can also be laid out in the area and the birds will pull off the kernels when the loose feed is gone. When the snow cover is heavy and artic temperatures prevail, the birds really need all the extra help we can give them to help them make it through.
January garden tip: Heavy snows on trees and shrubs can damage or break branches and should be brushed off. Ice on tree and shrub branches should be allowed to melt off naturally, as breaking it off could cause damage to brittle branches.