MIke's Weather Garden...Winter update

By: Mike Breunling
By: Mike Breunling



The milder conditions expected the next several days may not signal the end of the winter season, but will nonetheless be a more optimistic reminder of what is ahead, as well as to serve to get us to begin thinking about the lawn, yard and garden.  Here are some things I have been thinking about recently that may be of some benefit to you.

(In case you are wondering, I have a degree in Ornamental Horticulture from Michigan State University, and practiced landscape design for many years in central Ohio)  These days, I enjoy spending lots of time out in the yard (when I'm not at the station!).

Deer and rabbit browsing

This is the third consecutive winter with a rather substantial snowcover, and by this point in the season, the winter forage for animals such as deer and rabbits has been restricted if not completely unavailable for quite a while.  This means there  may be more attempts at browsing on the trees and shrubs around the yard.  While the nibbling of smaller twigs and branches is not necessarily a problem, significant damage can be done to plants if larger branches and even the main trunks are chewed more thoroughly.

So a decision needs to be made as to whether or not the plants in your yard will be subject to forage, and then what can be done to protect those that are vulnerable.

First, these shrubs and trees seem to be more preferred as winter forage by both rabbits and deer:

-spirea (dwarf varieties), viburnum, crabapples, shrub-form cherry (such as purple-leaf sand cherry), serviceberry.

Here are some shrubs and trees that seem to be less tasty:

-larger spirea, lilac, mock-orange, red-twig dogwood, potentilla, cotoneaster, forsythia, juniper, yews, spruce, fir and pine, birch, dogwood, hawthorn.

A good and seemingly reliable reference on this subject is the book, Creating a Deer & Rabbit Proof Garden, by Peter Derano.

Actions to take:

It is important to realize that some of the smaller varieties of spirea are very prolific (once established), and foraging (even down to the ground) will not destroy the plant.

Protection from browsing can be achieved by either placing barriers around the plants (which should have been done late fall or early in the winter and is more effective for rabbit controll), or by spraying.  There are several brands of repellants available.  I prefer Liquid Fence, which does seem to provide adequate protection if label directions are followed.  This is a nasty-smelling product, however, and every effort should be made to avoid contact with skin or clothing, but it is effective.  Even though we are more than halfway through the winter, the lingering snowcover will lead to forage of whatever is available.

Potential insect problems

While aphids did not seem to be very prolific last year, 2010 was a 'good' year for other pests, including black vine weevils (which really feasted on the yews in my yard), as well as grubs.  For the first time since my lawn was intalled (by seeding in 2005) I had a major grub problem.  Fortunately I was able to eventually get things under control (with some timely pesticide application), and rebuild the lawn with some additional fertilizer.  Certainly, the abundant rain during the late summer helped recovery as well.

The damp summer also caused some issues with leaf diseases and mildew.

We'll see what the new year will bring for the insects and diseases, but one should expect there may be a repeat performance of some of these pests in 2011.

Current moisture status

Since the first of December, the total liquid equivalent (rain and melted snow) of all precipitation in Wausau is 3.14", and for Rhinelander 2.67"  While some of this moisture has evaporated, due to the persistent ground frost (since late November) much of it remains above ground.  Hopefully the transition to spring will be gradual enough to allow most of this moisture to work into the soil and provide a good basis for the upcoming growing season.  Sump pumps across the area will also likely get a workout as well once the frost leaves the ground and the moisture settles through.

It's maintenance time!

With at least a few warmer days ahead, it will be a good time to get into the garage or shed and do some maintenance work on the power tools and other equipment, including:

     -mowers cleaned

     -sharpening mower blades, pruning tools, shovels

     -make an inventory of equipment-related supplies, and other gardening supplies

Resources on all things gardening

Everyone who gardens knows where to go for supplies and equipment.  But the internet also provides a tremendous amount of free and very useful information. 

One wonderful resource is the UW-Extension, which has made available a variety of web sites on a range of horticultural topics:

Click here for the link to the main UW-Extension site, from which you can access:

     -Garden Facts

     -Monthly Garden Calendar

     -Wisconsin Horticultural Update

If you have questions about insect pests, click here

For information about plant diseases, click here

And of course the UW-Extension maintains offices in each county.  For more information about the office in Marathon County, click here    

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