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Skaggs: Rejoice in rain and tips for gardens

POSTED: December 19, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The weather is cool and the holiday season is in full swing. And while I know many of you have other things on your mind, here are few tips for the home and garden.

General maintenance

After raking leaves, don't send all your hard work up in smoke. Leaf fires stink, and the downwind neighbors can get especially angry if their windows are open. The smoke from leaf fires can irritate the eyes, nose and throat of healthy adults, but can be much more harmful to small children, the elderly and people with asthma. Instead, compost those fall leaves and produce a valuable organic soil amendment that will make you and your garden proud.

Dumping ashes in the garden will add nutrients, mostly phosphorous and potassium, but remember to do this in moderation as it also makes the soil more acidic. Scatter ashes in a thin layer over a large area, and lightly till if possible.

Although the ideal time may have been while it was a little warmer, you can still get away with transplanting small trees and shrubs. I have successfully transplanted many trees and shrubs all the way through early spring. The key is to not attempt this when the ground is too moist or soggy - and, as we all should know, to prepare the planting hole as well as possible.

Remove old soggy mulch if it becomes matted and add a few inches of fresh pine straw or pine bark. I personally like double-ground pine bark because I have a good source for it and it does not blow around like pine straw.

Watch your wood

Firewood heating value is rated high for ash, yellow birch, hickory, dogwood, sugar maple and oak; medium for black cherry, paper birch, elm, hackberry, red maple, pine, sweetgum and walnut; and low for cedar, cottonwood, spruce, yellow poplar and sycamore.

Examine the limb structure of your shade trees. Remove dead, diseased and storm-damaged branches. If left on the tree, these weakened limbs can cause damage by falling on buildings or passers-by.

Don't forget the flowers

If you get annual flowers on your mind next spring, remember they will do better in a rich, organic soil. Raised beds amended with organic matter work well for annual flowers. Yet another reason to compost those fall leaves.

Now is a good time to do some general maintenance around flower beds. Remove any existing dead foliage from the annuals and perennials in the landscape. Be sure to mark the spots of perennial plants so you don't over plant the area in the spring.

Tulip and Dutch iris bulbs need to be planted in cold soil so they don't send up shoots before the roots are established. If tulips are planted deeply, they will produce large, uniform flowers for many years.

Our feathered friends

If bird feeding has been a favorite activity this winter, order trees and shrubs that provide cover and small fruits for your feathered friends. Consider species such as crabapple, hawthorn, holly, dogwood and pyracanth, which can help lure hungry birds from cultivated fruits if planted on the opposite side of the yard.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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