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Prepare for spring by winterizing your garden now

Jeff Lowenfels

There is nothing like a quick, surprise snowfall to jolt a gardener into reality. Nothing. Not even a frost or two will get many out into the yard to finally put the yard to bed. Ah, but a snow that appears out of nowhere? I bet even the laziest of us were jolted into action.

Might as well start with staking the driveway and the walk and any other areas where you want to keep people and machinery on path because, who knows? It might suddenly snow again. After nine months of snow on the ground, cars and people will have made tracks, usually in a straight line and usually not where you want them, that will impact the soil, gardens and lawns underneath. This year, you decide where people will move by marking paths. I use inexpensive, surveying flags. That way we can accidentally run them over without breaking a $10 reflector.

Before you stake, however, how about one more run with that mower -- that is if it hasn't snowed and stuck by the time you read this (sorry to those in the upper elevations). I may be the only garden writer who says lower, not raise the blade this last time, if the depth of leaves will allow. All the grass you leave above ground now will be dead next spring. As long as you don't cut through the grass plant crowns, you can cut as low as you want. Remember to cut a nice pattern.

Let's get those veggie gardens cleaned up. Harvest time is over. If you have stuff left, get it out. Sure, it is great to read about pulling carrots all winter long by covering them with mulch. You probably are not going to do that. Clean up. There may even still be raspberries on the bushes. Don't forget those currents, gooseberries and kiwis.

Stake things in the perennial gardens so you know where they are next spring. Peonies will need their mulch taken off, for example, so be exact. And be careful not to poke stakes in the centers of roots or to damage labels. Remove seed heads. I leave pretty much everything else. Let it decay. Even the peony leaves, as far as I am concerned, though all the books will say it is a no-no. Really?

Pile leaves on the perennial gardens and over plants. You can use them on annual and vegetable gardens, but it is best to run them over with a mower a few times as finer, cut-up leaves provide better food for bacteria. That is what you want producing nitrate type nitrogen in these gardens. Grass clippings are the idea, so you can use a ground-up leaf and grass clippings mixture.

Of course, you may be tempted to rototill in grass clippings and leaves, but that would be the wrong thing to do. These leaves and the grass clippings will decay over the winter and the soil food web will bring the organics into the soil. Instead of rototilling, before laying down any more mulch, pull up any weed plants with seeds, take out all the old labels and pick up all the stuff that garden beds and their immediate environs attract.

Summer tools need to be put away. Oil metal parts. Get out the snow shovels and ice chippers if you have not already. Put away the mower. Some folks use gas treatment, others don't. I am not a NASCAR person, but how could using a formula developed to keep gasoline stable during the winter hurt? It's up to you. So is whether to take the blades off for sharpening now rather than in the spring when everyone else is doing it.

Disconnect all things attached to outdoor faucets and make sure water is turned off if that is what is needed to prevent frozen pipes. Clear water out of timers and hoses.

Finally, for the umpteenth time, Plantskydd seems to be the best protection against winter moose browsing. However, it has to be applied now, if not done already, so get to it. After this weekend gardens should be cleaned up and the trees and shrubs will be the only things left for them eat.

 

Jeff Lowenfels is America's longest running garden columnist, co-author of "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide To The Soil Food Web" and host of "The Garden Party" from 20 a.m. to noon on KBYR AM 700 and www.kbyr.com. It is the best time to call in with your questions; 274-5297 or 1-866-610-5297.

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