Lowenfels: Don't let sudden temperature spikes ice your perennials

GardeningNovember 27, 2013 

Let's start outside this week and then move in. Snow is one thing. Ice is a totally different matter.

From the indoors looking out, the ice and the crystals floating in the sunlight are pretty fantastic. Still, we all have to deal with a serious icing's impact on the yard.

If you haven't learned by now, you were lucky during the Big Ice Over. A great tool to have around is a long, lightweight but sturdy pole that can knock heavy snow or accumulating ice off at least the lower limbs of your taller trees and shrubs. The shorter ones you can swipe with a snow shovel or broom to remove branch-breaking weight.

Ice, by the way, is one of the things that negatively impact perennials. Water accumulates in the crowns of plants, or in the hollow tubes of last season's stems or flowers (like delphiniums, for example). It expands when it freezes and thaws. Ah, but readers of this column should be in good shape. Mulch is one of the answers to the possibility of ice.

You probably don't need me to tell you, but what you put down on your walks and driveway to take care of ice can have an impact on your plants. Lawns, trees and shrubs in garden beds that are within the spray and drain-off zones are the ones to think about. Read labels to see what yours does to plants.

Some of these melts are basically urea. This is nitrogen fertilizer and it is pretty strong. Go easy around lawns. And if you're thinking of using that cheap bird seed your birds won't eat to gain some traction on the driveway, consider what a smorgasbord your driveway will become to every rodent in the area.

Finally, when it gets down into the single digits and then pops up so that we get ice like last week, it isn't a bad idea to check your outdoor faucets. Better safe than sorry.

Inside, of course, is where the growing action should be taking place. Everyone jumped the gun this year and the holidays are here early. Poinsettias, Christmas cactus and amaryllis have joined the ranks of chrysanthemums on local shelves. I am a big believer that plants like these are what get us through the winters.

Mums, of course, are the more traditional Thanksgiving fare and you may have one. There are still some of the shelves and they are worth buying for their colorful flowers.

These mums are not the same as the ones people plant outdoors, the hardy kind. These are florist mums, grown in greenhouses. They don't have the same root structure as hardy mums. And, since they are grown in greenhouses, they are often hard to get to re-bloom, though you can surely treat them like houseplants and keep them growing after they finish flowering in a few weeks.

The ones you have like higher temperatures that drop 10 degrees or so at night. By warm I mean 75 to 85 degrees They also like bright light. These may not be so easy to provide, so just do the best you can. Enjoy the plants and keep the pot when you toss yours next month.

Poinsettias around here are locally grown. If they are not, they are not worth buying in my opinion. Shipping poinsettias from the Lower 48 states takes its toll. Ask where the ones you buy came from. Local is not just for food, I say.

You may be asking yourself: Should I buy one (or more) this early? I answer "early?" Of course you should buy. As with anything else in the plant world in Alaska, the early bird gets the proverbial worm.

Every plant you get will have a tag telling you how to care for it. Don't let soil dry out, no drafts, keep cool. Read the tag. As for my advice, a lot of the problem is in the transport home from the nursery or supermarket. When it is 3 degrees outside, it is 3 degrees in your car. Warm the car. Don't make extra stops. Make sure plant is wrapped properly. You get the picture, I am sure.

Thanksgiving leads to poinsettia season. Go forth and buy. Don't wait.

Jeff Lowenfels' bestselling books are available at tinyurl.com/teamingwithmicrobes and tinyurl.com/teamingwithnutrients

Garden calendar

RARE APPEARANCE FOR GOOD CAUSES, DEC. 5: AS SOME OF YOU KNOW, IN MY RECENT LIFE I HAVE BECOME A BOOK AUTHOR AND TRAVELING LECTURER. IF YOU EVER WANTED TO HEAR THE TALK THAT ACCOMPANIES MY RECENT BOOK, THEN LISTEN UP. THE APU PRESIDENT'S FORUM AND THE ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN PRESENT JEFF LOWENFELS' "GARDENING: HORTON HEARS A WHO AND SO WILL YOU" DEC. 5 IN GRANT HALL FROM 6:30 TO 8 P.M. PROCEEDS GO TO THESE TWO GREAT INSTITUTIONS, TICKETS ARE $15-$20 ONLINE, JUST GOOGLE "LOWENFELS APU." THIS IS A CRAZY FUN, TED-TYPE TALK THAT SHOULD GET YOU THINKING A LITTLE BIT.

STORED AMARYLLIS: GIVE THEM A FEW MORE WEEKS.

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