Happy New Year! We truly welcome 2014!
If you can tolerate the cold weather, there are several things that you can do this month in your landscape that will lighten the load for the rest of the season. The main item is pruning or thinning of our woody ornamentals.
Deciduous trees such as maples, oaks, ash, etc., can be pruned at this time. Interior, broken or crossing branches should be removed now while you can see exactly what you are removing.
If the weather is extremely bad this month, then snow and/or ice removal are going to be the big tasks. Be aware of where you are putting all of this frozen precipitation.
Heavy accumulations of snow or ice can easily damage plants. Accidentally dump a snow shovel full of wet snow on top of some of your shrubs, and you may end up replacing the broken mass next spring.
Snowplows can also do quite a bit of damage to plantings and lawn areas. Use location stakes with flags to show where your driveways and walkways are as well as where to “dump” excess snow.
If you need to remove ice from drives and walkways, be extremely careful with the melting compound you use. Rock salt will destroy concrete sidewalks, driveways and concrete pavers. It will also kill most shrubs, perennials and lawns.
There are many other compounds used to melt ice that won’t damage your concrete or kill your plants. These compounds contain potassium, magnesium or calcium chloride. These compounds also work in lower temperatures.
You can use products such as bird seed, sawdust and nonclumping cat litter to provide traction. Of course, these will not melt the ice, but they won’t harm your plants, pets or concrete.
Now, I want to mention a little about “bird feeding.” Celebrate our feathered friends and make it a family affair! It’s hard to say who benefits more from backyard bird feeders, the birds or the people who feed them.
Some of life’s more enjoyable moments include the songs and antics of the birds outside our windows.
Give careful consideration to making it easy and fun for the whole family. If the feeders are hard to reach, the bags too heavy for the kids to maneuver, or the birdbath too far from the hose, pretty soon someone will lose patience and object to being involved.
Hang different types of feeders at different heights and near enough to your house so you can watch the birds at relatively close range. You can use empty coffee cans and homemade funnels (cut the bottom off a large soft drink bottle) for feeder-filling convenience.
Don’t be discouraged if you have just put up a new feeder and the birds don’t flock to it immediately. Because birds recognize food by sight, it can take awhile for them to locate a new source. Try putting aluminum foil on the ground underneath, where sunlight can be reflected.
If you already have other feeders, put the new one nearby until the birds discover it. Bird feeding activity attracts other species, so when you add a specialty feeder (such as a nyjer feeder) to your feeding station, it probably won’t take new birds long to find it.
Remember that, for the sake of the birds’ health, it is always important to keep the feeders and the ground beneath them cleaned up of old seed that can harbor disease.
It is important to provide unfrozen water for the birds throughout winter. Put your birdbath in an open area, but near some trees or bushes to permit a quick escape if predators approach. Birds will visit regularly once they discover it is a safe and steady source of fresh water.
Open water in freezing weather will attract as many or more birds, as a well-stocked feeder! Birds use it to help keep them warmer in winter. By cleaning their feathers and grooming them with natural oils, our feathered friends are able to help insulate their bodies from cold.
You can keep water thawed with a submersible heater placed directly in the water. It’s economical and safe as long as you use a high-quality, outdoor extension cord to plug the heater into an electrical source. Heated birdbaths are also available.
Birds appear to be homeless in winter, which makes people wonder where they go at night. In general, they choose to roost in the same kind of places as they build their nest during breeding season. Some birds will use the same roosting spot every night unless predators disturb them.
For now, enjoy this winter, do an analysis on your landscape and prepare for spring projects . . . and we will “see you in the garden.”
This monthly column is written by Sandi Hillermann McDonald of Hillermann Nursery & Florist, Washington.