While the temperatures stay below freezing, let’s give ourselves permission to cocoon a bit with our hot chocolate and Christmas novels. Or, for the hard core gardeners, it’s almost time to study the 2013 Burpee’s or Henry Fields catalogs. But if we’re lucky enough to get the traditional “January thaw,” there are certainly things homeowners can do outdoors to prepare our property for a more beautiful spring.
First and worst…do you have a tree that failed to survive last summer’s heat wave and the continuing drought? Large dead trees, especially evergreens, need to be professionally removed. It’s an expensive proposition, but this is the time to contact a tree service and get ahead of the many homeowners who’ll wait until the busy season. You may even be able to negotiate a better price.
Most of our trees are somewhat weakened from the drought and unless the rains come soon, we need to take any opportunity to give them water. To give a tree the recommended 20-gallon drink without reconnecting the hoses, try punching some holes in a plastic 5-gallon bucket which you’ll fill with water and place under the edge of the tree’s canopy. When the bucket is empty, refill it and move it 90 degrees. When you’ve drained the bucket four times around the tree, you’re finished.
If a tour of your yard shows more leaves have accumulated (blown from the neighbors’ yards, of course), it just takes a few minutes to rake them up and use them as mulch for tender shrubs or young trees. By mulching while the soil is cold, we protect dormant plants from suffering from untimely warm-ups followed by another cold snap.
It’s also a good time to watch for broken or crossed branches that need to be pruned and remove vining weeds that might be growing up among the lilacs or forsythia. Young trees are best trimmed in winter, when their form is obvious and there will be less sap “bleeding” from the cuts. Websites such as www.heartlandtreealliance.org or http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/your-
trees-and-woods show proper pruning techniques.
While the decorative grasses may still look attractive, especially in the snow, they can be cut back at any time. Ours are so large, we tie a rope around each clump before using the hedge trimmers to cut the whole thing back to about six inches, thus avoiding much of the mess.
Are you feeding the birds? They’ll reward you with their beauty and songs once spring arrives. If you notice old birds’ nests, the “victory garden” website suggests removing and placing them in a paper bag. Spray with bug killer and close he bag for a few days, and then turn the nests into decorative items by spray painting them and adding artificial birds or eggs.
And finally, please take down the Christmas lights! They were beautiful in November and December, but it’s time to embrace the new year. May yours be happy, healthy and filled with nature’s beauty.
Carol Rothwell is a member of the Lee’s Summit Beautification Commission and a Lee’s Summit resident.