The Pueblo West View

Winter ramblings draws attention to plants

Maureen Van Ness
Maureen Van Ness

Are you enjoying our cold weather?

Brrrr.

Did you know it is not just the cold, but day length that sends our plants into their slow-growth mode?

The Peresphone period, a phrase coined by Eliot Coleman, who raises vegetable crops year-round in maritime Maine, marks the days when an area has less than ten hours of daily sunshine. Here, based on our latitude, those days are Nov. 19 through Jan. 21..

During this time, plant growth pretty much stops. Once daylight begins to lengthen, the plants slowly prepare for spring.

How can we best help our plants get through this quiet time?

By watering.

Every year, we write about the importance of winter watering.

Not to bore you, but to emphasize its importance.

If we could do one thing to strengthen our plants through winter – yeah, you got it – water.

Once a month, on a warm day (above 50 degrees), and early enough in the day that the water has a chance to seep in before night-time freezes, give your lawn, shrubs, perennials and trees a good watering.

We do not have the insulation of snow, or the humidity and rainfall of other areas, so we must water to keep our plants healthy and strong.

To make the job easier, remember to drain and disconnect hoses, so they will be ready for next month’s watering.

Weed clean-up is also a good winter chore.

Everyone’s trash pick-up has their own restrictions, but I can put out a large contractor size trash bag in addition to our usual can each week.

Winter is a good time to put out the backlog of accumulated piles, to get those cleaned up before the spring influx of pruning and trimmings.

If you see tiny weeds surfacing, pull them, now, while they are still small and before seed production can begin.

Annual and biennial weeds can be controlled by hand pulling, grabbing the roots, too. Pulling when they are small is effective, and vastly easier than dealing with a monster weed that has already set seed (voice of experience, here).

A walk around the garden, weeder or trowel in hand, will go a long way toward spring and summer weed control.

Winter is a great time, as you walk through the garden, or enjoy it through the windows, to observe the “bones” of your landscape. What shrubs, trees, or structures form the basic outline?

Where are there gaping holes that feel out-of-balance?

How about walkways or paths?

What are the focal points?

What plants appear to be barely surviving, would a different choice be more appropriate?

Winter is traditionally a time for gardeners to bask in seed catalogs, planning a flourishing, abundant garden.

Yes, absolutely.

But also, research and think about the larger shrubs, trees, structures, or walkways that would make your landscape a place where you want to spend more time, to enjoy it more.

Draw out a sketch of your landscape, at least sort of to scale, and imagine where and how to make improvements.

Bird feeders and bird baths are beneficial for our feathery friends.

Remember to keep feeders full, as the local birds come to depend on them, and fill the bird baths daily with fresh water.

If you can, remove the ice in the morning and add warm tap water to get them through the day.

Or, purchase an electric bird bath heater for the ultimate in bird bath luxury.

Deer can be voracious this time of year.

Their usual foods are sparse, and they may find your plants especially attractive and yummy.

A garden friend said, at her house, the deer did some of her spring pruning for her, and the plants came back even more vigorously.

So, don’t fret too much about your huge four legged neighbors.

If they do get too aggressive, plants can be enclosed in hardware cloth with one to two inch openings, or plastic fencing wrapped around the plants you want to protect.

Be sure the diameters are less than six feet so the deer aren’t inclined to jump inside. Because the plants are dormant, they should recover from damage come spring.

Have you walked around the pond at Cattail Crossing lately?

Take a ramble there to enjoy the winter wildlife and predominately gray/tan colors of dormant plants.

When we walked, Canadian Geese flocks came flying in, honking and squawking. As they landed on the ice, they slid six feet, their wings pumping to create reverse thrust like jets when they land.

The pond is iced over, except for the center where some of the ducks, seagulls and geese congregate.

Our xeriscape garden quietly waits for the longer days to return, and although it will be longer until temperatures warm up, we’ll start to see new growth soon.

Yay!

Maureen Van Ness is a Colorado Master Gardener and a volunteer member of The Pueblo West Xeriscape Gardeners at Cattail Crossing, now on Facebook. Or, contact The Gardeners at cattailgardeners@gmail.com.

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