January is a month when your chainsaw might be the only gardening tool you use. Chains come with a thin but tough coating of industrial chrome. They would stay sharp almost indefinitely if you used them on only on clean wood. But wood often is dirty or lying near debris that is difficult to avoid.
Prudent saw operators often brush, wash or chop off dirty areas before cutting with a chainsaw. It can save a lot of time in the long run. Ice and snow may be knocking down some big limbs, and of course the fireplace and wood-burning stove need feeding! Here are some tips on when to replace or sharpen the chainsaw blade:
- When the chain no longer self-feeds. This is the most obvious signal to re-sharpen. A properly sharpened chain pulls itself down through the cut. If you find yourself pushing on the saw to make it cut, or using the bucking spikes to apply heavy leverage, it’s time to sharpen the chain.
- When the saw’s discharge is dusty. A properly sharpened saw chain expels nice, square wood chips. If your chain saw is producing wood dust instead of chips, it’s time to sharpen.
- When the chain looks shiny. Look at the top plate and side plate. If the chrome plating has worn away, it will expose the steel underneath, and the cutting edge will be shiny. To restore the cutting edge, you must file the steel away until a thin overhang of chrome returns.
It’s important to stop cutting when you realize your chain is dull. Forcing a dull chain to cut subjects the power head, chain, sprocket and guide bar to unnecessary wear and tear. Dull or improperly maintained saw chains are the true source of most bar-related failures. Dull chains also are a safety hazard and another good reason to stop cutting when the chain gets dull.
With winter deeply upon us, look forward by making wooden frames for raised beds. If you elect to make your raised beds out of wood, choose cedar, Douglas fir, locust, redwood or white oak. These woods will typically last for approximately 5 years when in continuous contact with soil.
If you empty the soil out of the containers after the growing season, and allow the wood to dry out, you’ll extend the lifespan of your raised beds. Selecting the correct lumber for the task will save you from applying a wood preservative. The completely safe solution for edible foods is to use woods that are naturally moisture resistant.
Most vegetables (except potatoes!) prefer an alkaline soil. The addition of garden lime or wood ash from your fireplace or wood stove will help raise the pH (measure of acidity/alkalinity) of your soil. Calcium from the lime helps small clay particles to clump together, forming granules. The larger the soil particles, the greater the porosity of the soil, which allows for more air and water flow. Winter is a good time to add lime to the garden as it takes a few months for it to be broken down into elements the plants can use when you plant them in spring.
It’s time to order seeds and seed starting supplies for exciting additions for next growing season.
Flowers and Houseplants
As you are ordering seeds or transplants, try something new, perhaps something a native that is already adapted to the short growing season, such as marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) or sheep laurel/lambkill (Kalmia angustilfolia).
Generally, most houseplants need a rest period, so withhold fertilizer during the winter.
Most houseplants require less water in the winter, as well. Make sure you are not over-watering.
Cacti only need water when they begin to shrivel. Keep them in a cool, bright spot, ideally where daytime temperatures are no higher than the mid-60s F.
As light levels decrease, you may need to move houseplants for best light exposure. Clean windows and remove screens, if it is practical, to allow plants to get more light. Protect your plants from drafts. Indoor grow lights may be necessary to keep houseplants and new seedlings healthy.
Set houseplants on trays filled with pebbles, and keep the trays filled with water to increase humidity.
Thoroughly water newly purchased plants to leach excess fertilizer and salt build-up from the soil.
Winter sun and wind cause excessive water loss while the roots are in frozen soil and unable to replace lost water. Bright, sunny days cause the plant tissue to initiate cellular activity. Then, when the sun goes down, the plant’s temperature drops rapidly and the foliage is injured or killed. New transplants or plants with late season growth are particularly sensitive.
An important way to minimize winter injury to evergreens is proper placement in the landscape. Yew, hemlock, and arborvitae should not be planted on south or southwest sides of buildings or in highly exposed (windy, sunny) places.
To reduce damage, simply tie up the branches (similar to the way Christmas trees are baled when you buy them).
You can also construct a barrier of burlap or similar material on the south, southwest, and windward sides of evergreens. If a plant has exhibited injury on all sides, surround it with a blanket barrier, but leave the top open to allow for some air and light penetration.
If an evergreen has suffered winter injury, wait until mid-spring before pruning. Brown foliage is most likely dead and will not green up, but the buds, which are more cold-hardy than foliage, will often grow and fill in areas where foliage was frozen. If the buds have not survived, prune dead branches back to living tissue. Fertilize injured plants in early spring and water them well throughout the season.
The benefit of winter mulch is that it will keep vulnerable trees and shrubs from heaving during thaws, plus allow for roots to absorb some moisture. This will keep them from dehydrating.
Spread the mulch out to the drip line but pull it away from the trunk about six inches.
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