By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

This is kind of a cruddy time of year for gardeners.  It’s too early to start seeds, and you have “debugged” all your houseplants. The seed orders are all sent so now what?

If you have been thinking about starting a new garden or have a lot of winter-kill on your present garden, it’s time to take a walk outside, weather permitting. What you are looking for is where the snow piles up. snow is one of the best insulators there is. Now you can also see the wind patterns in the snow. What areas are bare, blown free of snow? You don’t want a shrub or perennial in those area unless you can really mulch them well in the fall. Even then, you will probably need to replant the area every spring as they will always struggle there.  A plant buried under a snowdrift will take longer to thaw and warm up in the spring, not always a bad thing. We have had ice storms in April and killing frost well into May in some years that wiped out all the spring blooms. This is a very harsh climate as any native well knows. Only northern Russia is equivalent or colder. 

If you have planted spring bulbs next to the foundation of your house, keep piling snow on them as long as we have snow. Here is also an excellent place to cover with evergreen boughs after you remove your Christmas tree. Otherwise, those plants will pop up too early as the foundation leaks heat, warming the soil. While it is fun to have the first tulips and daffs blooming on the block, they are also the first ones to be killed by a late frost. 

Planting any plant close to the foundation is never a good idea. The recommended distance between the house and any planting is four feet. This ensures good air circulation; they don’t push against the siding, and they aren’t in “rain shade” where the rain doesn’t get to them. This also prevents the roots of shrubs and foundation planting from damaging the foundation or siding. We have all seen overgrown arborvitae, Bunkey calls them hairy telephone poles, covering windows, pushing off shingles and damaging the siding of homes because they were planted too close to a house, usually between the house and a sidewalk. Think ahead before you plant anything in this small area. All plants grow. How tall and wide will this plant be in 10 years-20 years? Too wide and you will need to go through your front door sideways. Or need to walk beside the sidewalk because the shrub has gotten so fat.

If you feed the birds, a barn broom works very well to push all the dropped seeds in a pile so you can get rid of them. This mess is usually, bird poop, hulls and some edible seeds the birds spit out. The mix can make your birds sick if they feed on this stuff. Compost it or bag it up for the trash. Keep it clean and by spring you will only have a small mess to clean up. Feeding only black sunflower seeds or thistle seeds reduces the cleanup. The mixes usually have seeds that no respectable bird will eat. Even the rabbits that feed under the feeders turn their noses up at most of it. Save your money. Blue Jays will be thrilled to find peanuts, shelled or not on a feeder. So will the squirrels, however.

Birds need water in the winter. Give them a heated bird bath. Only sparrows will be stupid enough to bathe, the rest will happily drink. Sparrow-sickles are a good thing as they aren’t native anyway.