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When temperatures drop, protect plants, prepare for spring

We've recently had a few cool days that might make gardeners wonder which plant materials will be hardy should colder or freezing weather arrive. I offer little or no protection to the plants in my yard.

A ground-hugging bougainvillea gets a blanket thrown across it, and I may try to insulate the three tomato plants in the vegetable garden. But the rest of the plants will be on their own should we have a cold snap.

Generally when temperatures drop, you might see some damage to less hardy perennials and annuals. Marigolds may suffer. Pentas, begonias and candy corn plants won't be happy. Not all plants receive equal treatment from harsh weather. Because yards have microclimates, you may have the same species in different areas in your yard. Some might sustain damage, others might not.

If you end up with damage, don't be too quick to remove the plants. The foliage might be damaged, but the root might still be healthy. If this is the case, the plant will revive when the weather warms up. It is best not to remove damaged leaves, stems and branches, as these will help protect the plant if more cold weather arrives.

Annuals damaged by the cold usually end up as little mounds of blackened, mushy foliage and stems. These plants are beyond help. Remove them. Seeds are inexpensive, so throw out a couple of packets of annual seeds and hope for the best.

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During winter, there's not much yard work to do. But there are some tasks that shouldn't be ignored. Rake leaves into planting beds as a mulch. Remove weeds. They are opportunistic and, if ignored this time of year, will strike with a vengeance in the spring. Apply a pre-emergent weed killer to lawns in late January or early February. Also don't let your lawn get too long as this will also encourage weeds.

Treat fungus. If grass appears brown and dry, it may be from the cold, lack of water or just a natural dormancy. But if the brown has a tinge of red, the grass probably has a fungus. If so, spray with a fungicide twice during the next two to three weeks. The cold weather won't kill the fungus, which can kill out a lawn fairly rapidly.

This is a good time for some mental exercises regarding your landscape. Think about what worked and what didn't this year. Plan now to make improvements and changes. Continue to look for ways to conserve water. Take a moment to look through gardening catalogs. Mark a few things you might want to try in your landscape. Be daring; try something new each season. It makes gardening more creative and fun.

Clean out your tool shed or garage. Look closely at all your tools. Replace or repair as needed. The correct tool in good shape will help make your landscaping chores easier. This is a good time to overhaul your power equipment. Change oil, filters and sharpen blades. Use oil on metal tools, including rakes, shovels and hand tools. Lightly sand the wooden handles with a fine sandpaper and rub with a protective oil or stain. Make sure your tools are stored away from moisture so they don't rust. Renew your resolve to clean the tools after each use to increase their life span. Get rid of duplicates or tools you don't use.

Mentally improving your landscape and physically preparing your tools for the spring will put you ahead of the garden season.

Mary Collister can be reached hillsnews@sptimes.com.

When temperatures drop, protect plants, prepare for spring 12/24/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:54pm]
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