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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gardening: Pine needles, snow protect plants from chill

Pat Munts

Winter hasn’t even started yet and we’ve already seen the mercury dip below zero.

Now I don’t have any special information as to what this winter is going to be like, but suffice it to say the last time it was minus 20 was 2005 and it’s been five years since Snowmageddon in 2008-09. So if you are a little behind on the fall into winter gardening chores here’s a list of must-dos:

• Make sure hoses are disconnected from outside faucets. Water in the hoses can back up into the faucet piping and freeze. When it thaws out you are going to have a mess on your hands with leaks that will likely send water into your house. You, of course, won’t be home when it happens.

• Tea roses need a good mulching now that the ground is frozen. I was up at the Manito Rose Garden last weekend and the gardeners had cut down the roses to about two feet and then packed pine needles in and around the plants. On the rose arbor, they wrapped the climbing roses with a plastic sheet like that used in house wrap to protect the long canes from the winds that can dry them out.

• If you planted a lot of new perennials and shrubs this last spring and summer, put some mulch on them to keep them from frost heaving out of the ground. The mulch will insulate the ground and keep it from thawing and freezing too many times over the winter. Again shredded pine needles work really well for this.

• We will eventually have to start doing some serious shoveling to clear snow and ice off walks and driveways. Use only potassium or magnesium chloride deicers on those slick areas as these chemicals do not harm plants and lawns like sodium chloride (ordinary salt) or burn like fertilizer.

• If you have garden plants near your walk that can handle the weight of the snow, pitch some of those sidewalk cleanings onto the beds for extra winter protection. A good layer of snow will insulate plants quite well from really cold temperatures.

• Set out a few bamboo or other lightweight poles near trees that could be damaged by heavy, wet snows. This makes it easier to go out and knock the snow off snow laden branches. Do it gently though starting at the branch tip so the weight is taken off the limb in a balanced fashion and it is less likely to break.

• Since this is the Christmas season think about ways to use your tree after the holidays. The branches can be trimmed off and used to cover low growing plants. The whole tree can be hung with goodies for the birds and squirrels and left to provide you with unending winter entertainment as well as give the birds a place to get out of the weather under the shelter of the evergreen branches.