Jan. 2014 To Do List: Western Mountains & High Plains

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barberry in snowSnow is a great insulator, and it’s fine to leave a light blanket of snow on your shrubs and other plants this month. Two or three inches can help protect them from the drying effects of wind. But problems can arise when the snow becomes wet or heavy, and the weight breaks or bends branches that are already brittle from the cold temperatures.

To avoid damage to your plants, gently shake off the accumulating snow before it forms a thick layer. Some people use brooms to knock the snow off branches and limbs, but be careful. You can sometimes do more harm than good.

  • Some de-icing chemicals may harm plants and grass around walks or driveways, so before using them, shovel away as much snow as possible. Then mix equal parts of sand, kitty litter, or ordinary garden fertilizer with an environmentally friendly salt to make surfaces less slippery.  
  • Use driveway markers along the edge of drives and walks to guide you when you operate a snow blower.
  • If a spell of warm weather melts the snow, check your perennials for signs of crown rot, a fungal disease that can strike in soggy soils. Clear the ice and snow away from your plants to let the soil drain and dry.
  • Jump start your garden by covering the soil with clear, heavy-duty plastic about six to eight weeks before the safe planting date in your area. The plastic will raise the temperature of the soil by a few degrees, so it will be ready a few weeks earlier than usual for your cool season crops. It will also help melt any snow underneath, adding to the supply of moisture.
  • Cut back ornamental grasses that have broken under the weight of snow and ice. When they start growing again, tie up the clumps with stakes and twine to help support them.
  • Grow herbs in a sunny window. Keep them pinched back so they stay bushy; use the trimmings in recipes.
  • Remove mealybugs and scale from houseplants by wiping the infested leaves with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol and soapy water.
  • Treat indoor plants for spider mites by spraying with a solution made from tepid water and a few drops of mild dishwashing soap. Check both sides of the leaves. If the pests persist, try treating the foliage with a horticultural dormant oil.
  • If spring flowering bulbs shoot up prematurely, cover them with loose mulch or compost to protect them when temperatures dip again.
  • Watch for oystershell scale, a pest that sucks the sap from aspens, lilacs, and ash trees. If this scale is present, treat with a horticultural oil spray before the buds break dormancy and while the weather is mild. Consider pruning out heavily infested twigs and branches.

Image: Shutterstock/Tina Jeans

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