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Skaggs: Cold weather is no excuse to slack off on chores
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UGA Cooperative Extension: Find more information about gardening and landscaping.

fWhile we've had some cold, wet weather in the last few weeks, why not catch a few dry days and get ahead on some of your gardening chores?

The following is a list of landscape and garden chores for the months of January and February.

Avoid walking on grass or ground covers while they are frozen. The frozen leaves are brittle and easily damaged. Ajuga is especially sensitive to being walked on during the winter, and large portions can die back, leaving bare spots for the spring.

Before planting a backyard orchard, map out the site, giving particular attention to air and water drainage. Avoid frost pockets — areas where cold air gathers - or you may be disappointed year after year when flower buds freeze and drop. Good water drainage is also important for good tree growth. If drainage is questionable, drainage tiles or land reformation may be required for productive fruit trees. Shallow soils may require irrigation.

Keep an eye out for plants with interesting winter form or color. Consider planting similar varieties in your yard so you can enjoy them at home next year.

Now is a great time to prune fruit trees. Pruning allows the tree to direct nutrients to branches that will bear high-quality fruit. The objective is to remove dead, diseased or damaged wood. Also, remove shoots that are growing straight up or straight down, as neither provides good fruit development. Growth crisscrossing the center of the tree should be removed as well. A more open tree allows greater light penetration and air circulation, thereby increasing fruit quality and reducing disease and insect pressure.

Trees with large cavities in their trunks should be evaluated yearly as to whether or not they should be removed for safety reasons. When a cavity takes up more than 75 percent of a limb or trunk, the wood could give way anytime.

Don't turn under grass and weeds to plant strawberries. Enough old growth will survive to compete with the young plants, making for a weedy mess. There is increased danger of grubs in such locations.

If you are planning to add shade trees to your landscape, here a few things you should know. Some types of trees have roots that may invade drain fields, crack walks, and pierce foundation walls, so plan the placement and species of the trees to avoid problems. For instance, poplar and ash are known for cracking walls, and should never be planted near houses or walls. Keep these species at the perimeter of the yard. Maple roots can raise heavy concrete sidewalks, and willow and crabapple trees can invade drainage fields with their fibrous roots.

For your first raspberry patch, think small; 6 to 10 plants will do for a start. Since raspberries send out underground runners which can be invasive, you may want to sink an 8- to 12-inch sheet of metal vertically around the planting.

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

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