This week's gardening tips from the Savvygardener.

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Seeds Indoors
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~ Changing the pH of Your Soil
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~ Overseeding A Lawn
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November 29, 2006

Just Say Snow...
Well, we knew it would happen. It was just a matter of time. Cold weather has arrived in Kansas City bringing freezing rain
(photos) and a possibility of snow. I think the only ones excited about this drastic change in the weather are the kids. There is hope of a snow day looming on the horizon. I guess I can't blame them. There is something uniquely exciting about the first snow of the season. Sledding, building snowmen, drinking hot chocolate, and all of those other fun things that go hand and hand with the first snow.

Snow is good, sleet is bad. Snow is fluffy, wet, and cold but in a good way. Sleet is slick, wet, and cold but in a scary way. There are so many things that can go wrong with sleet. The first one that comes to mind is losing power. We have lived without power throughout so many storms that you would think that we would be used to it by now. Well guess what? Being without power is fun for the first hour or two and then it starts to get cold and it doesn't matter how many blankets or layers you have on it just gets too cold to be comfortable. So I am hoping that the sleet stops soon and that big snowflakes start falling from the sky. Snow is good!

~ Shelly  


Wintry Mix Mess...
This so-called "wintry mix" we are experiencing can wreak havoc on your trees and shrubs.  As snow and ice accumulates on branches they sag and may ultimately break.  Here are some tips for dealing with the problem:

For unbroken limbs that are sagging significantly:

  • Don't shake or beat the ice and snow off of them.  This is more likely to cause more damage than it prevents.
  • Gently brush off the loose stuff and leave the rest to melt slowly as temperatures rise.

For broken limbs:

  • Remove broken limbs as soon as practical.
  • Use sharp tools and make clean cuts. This will speed recovery next spring and create a better looking tree.

Deicer Damage...
When ice and snow pile up it's not unusual to reach for a deicing agent to help melt the frozen stuff away.  Deicers work by lowering the freezing point of water, creating a brine (chemical-water solution) and allowing water to evaporate. The oldest and most common deicing agent is sodium chloride (rock salt), but calcium chloride, potassium chloride and magnesium chloride are also used. The damaging effects of these materials on plants come from their reducing the ability of plants to take up water and the effects may not show up until late spring or summer when water stresses begin to prevail so donít expect damage to be immediate.

Limited use of deicers and spreading the ice slush when scooping it away over a wide area will lessen potential damage. Heavy applications of water in the spring season can also flush salts downward through the soil. The relatively new deicer Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) is made from dolomite (limestone) and acetic acid (vinegar) and has very minimal damaging effects on plants, animals, or concrete surfaces.


Frosty Footprints...
If you have ever walked across a frosted lawn that isn't dormant you may have noticed your footprints showing up later in the day. Though this is unsightly, it does not actually kill the turf. Grass blades are damaged but the crown is not. Actively growing turf will often recover after two to four mowings. Damage that occurs late in the fall (such as now) will continue to show damage until it is masked by the rest of the lawn turning brown due to cold weather.



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Are Poinsettias Poisonous?
It seems that every year about this time the rumor is resurrected that poinsettias are poisonous.  Though there may be an allergic reaction to the milky sap, there has never been a recorded case of poisoning.  This rumor has been so persistent that members of the Society of American Florists have sought to dispel it by eating poinsettia leaves for the press.  In the 1985 AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, the poinsettia "has been found to produce either no effect (orally or topically) or occasional cases of vomiting.


Still Time To Till...
Autumn is an excellent time to add organic materials and till garden soils. However, even winter can be a good time to take care of this chore as long as the soil isnít frozen. It is far wiser to till now than to wait until spring when cold, wet conditions can limit your ability to work soils easily. Working soil when it is wet destroys soil structure and results in hard clods that are very slow to break down.

There is a limitation to how much organic material such as leaves can be added in one application. Normally, a layer 5 to 6 inches deep is the maximum that can be added at one time. Shredding the material before application will encourage faster and more complete decomposition due to increased surface area.


Time To Mulch Roses?
It's still too early to mulch your roses.  Savvygardeners find it's best to wait for the ground to be fully frozen as this assures that the roses have been given a chance to "harden off". You can prepare for later mulching by collecting and setting aside the soil and mulch that you will use later. Cover this material with a tarp to keep it dry and once the ground has frozen you will have a good source of loose mulching material.

Christmas Tree Care...
One of the most enduring traditions of the season is the Christmas tree.  Here are some helpful tips if you are planning on putting one up yourself.

Your tree should have a fresh cut across the bottom, about 1 inch above the old base.  This removes any clogged wood that may not readily absorb water.  Next, it  should be placed in a stand with a large reservoir of water.  Depending upon the size, species, and location of the tree, it may absorb a gallon of water in the first day, so it should be checked frequently and re-watered as necessary.  Although some people advocate placing various substances in the water to preserve freshness, we recommend that you just keep the tree well-watered with regular tap water.

It is important that the tree always be kept watered and not allowed to dry out.  If the tree does become dried out, it may not be able to adequately absorb moisture once it is re-watered, and it will shed its needles prematurely.  A good rule of thumb is to treat a green Christmas tree just like a fresh bouquet of cut flowers. 

Your Christmas tree should be located in a safe place, preferably near a wall or corner where it is not likely to be knocked over.  Keeping the tree away from heat sources such as hot air ducts, wood stoves, fireplaces, etc., will help to preserve freshness and lessen fire danger.  Similarly, light cords and connections used in decorating the tree should be in good working condition.  Lights should always be turned off at bedtime or when leaving for an extended period of time. 

Fresh, well-watered Christmas trees do not represent a fire hazard.  Trees that are dried out, however, do.  The best fire retardant is to keep the tree supplied with plenty of water.


"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."

~ Marcel Proust

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