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Get You Gardens Ready for Winter
November 24, 2008

Welcome new and old readers.

Without you, this letter wouldn't be possible.

I thank you for your kind and very supportive words.

They help to keep me going and it is "HONOR" for me to write this letter.

I hope that I can continue to inform and sometimes entertain you.

By the time you read this, I will have gone through my second Lithotripsy (Monday morning) of the year.

I'll be home sometime Monday afternoon.

Yes, a remnant piece of the large stone had to be smashed.

So, if I'm not ready to answer mail Monday, please understand why.

Winter weather as made its way to to Great Lakes Region and that often means snow for someone some where.

Anyone living on or near a south or east side of a Big lake knows what I'm talking about.

We've had some flurries here, but drive 30 miles South and East and they are in a regular storm.

A few days of cold temperatures and all the robins have made a hasty retreat.

If you recall, last week robins were every where around here.

Starlings are flocking by the hundreds and thousands as they get ready to head South.

You may notice them in fields and yards eating seeds from weeds and grasses.

A few will remain, but I can live with that.

A reminder..............

To keep starlings from cleaning out your feeders, go strictly with Black oil sunflower seeds.

Starlings can't crack them and will go elsewhere to feed.

A small flock of 11 Mallard ducks waddle up from the pond on a daily basis to glean under the feeders and often a side dressing of cracked corn we offer to them.

If I'm home, they know my voice and follow me as i toss the corn for them.

Many of the small ponds and water spots are freezing over now.

I suppose it will be a matter of time when the ducks and geese head off to safer grounds.

My regular birds come and go.

A new neighbor has some feeders up so I imagine they are visiting them as well.

By offering what they want most or the good stuff, I know I will continue getting my fair share of birds, however.

Keet continues her walks with me in the evening (now dark).

Nothing like a moving leaf to get here going.

Ziggy the Poodle is slowly doing better on walks, but has a long way to go.

Karen is busy with Thanksgiving preparations (her family is coming over).

In between snow flakes, there are still some leaves to rake.

With the late fall, many leaves are slow to drop this year.

Keep an eye on bird food prices.

They are dropping at some locations, but don't expect pre-Frito Lay prices.

Don't expect prices to drop to pre-Frito Lay days, however.

Fall tasks and winter preparations continue (unless you're really good).

This week's main content covers many of these topics.

There may even be something in it for you :-)


If you live in the great white North, snow can come early and often.

This may pose a problem if you don't have your fall clean up taken care of.

It may also be a blessing however, because many things that you might cut back are left standing for the wildlife.

Here in my part of Michigan, we have had some lake effect snow.

And I know several areas through out the Great Lakes have been hit pretty hard by the lakes.

For those of you unfamiliar with lake effect snow and the Great Lakes, it happens something like this.

When the cold Canadian and Arctic air moves over the warmer bodies of water, it sucks up moisture and then deposits the moisture in the form of snow.

It has been COLD.

Depending on the wind direction and force of the wind, some areas can get buried with several feet of snow and other areas more than 100 miles from the lakes can get several inches.

Just another wonder from these magnificent bodies of water.

I digress.

So what can you do to prepare for winter?

Several things actually.

First, let's start with your lawn if you have one.

Winter or fall feeding is the most important feeding of the year.

It allows the roots to store up nutrients to aid in a strong green up in the spring and fight off any weakness that may have occurred during a tough summer and fall.

Give your lawn a tight hair cut, this helps to prevent thatch.

Even in warmer climates, with shorter days, grass slows down and a good feeding and tight cut will help.

If you've done your last mow for the season, run your mower dry (any gasoline powered equipment), you don't want old gas turning bad on you.

If you have the time and want to get ahead of the game, change all filters, plugs and oil so you wont have that slowing you down next spring.

Sharpen the blades while you are at it.

Now your equipment is ready for next spring.

Are you cutting back and pruning?

Not all plants should be cut back in the fall.

Leave grasses, some native flowers like Asters, Cone flowers and Liatris.

Birds love the seeds and as leaves and snow collect, they make a dandy place to hang out when the weather is nasty.

When you are raking leaves, be sure to let some hang out in your flower beds and gardens.

Maybe add some to boot.

Shredded leaves are golden as a mulch for your gardens.

This Autumn's leaves not only add organic matter to gardens, but you will find birds like Towhees and Thrushes scratching back and forth looking for some groceries (insects).

In Southern Climates, this will happen through out the winter.

For us up North, it will be late winter and early spring we see these garden scratchers.

Leaves also make nesting materials for some birds and small mammals.

Gardening for wildlife is not for the prim and proper.

Nope, you have to learn some new habits.

Like hiding your tools certain times of the year.

Walk through any natural area and you will see what I mean.

Shrubs aren't pruned into nice globes or well trimmed hedges.

Nature is.........


Nature or natural.

That is what your birds and wildlife want and prefer.

Besides, it's less work for you once you get the hang of it.


Mulch is a good thing.

It doesn't matter where you live, fall or winter mulching is important.

In temperate regions, mulch helps to retain moisture and gradually breaks down into organic matter.

If you live in some zone 7's and lower (6,5,4,etc.) where the ground freezes, then mulch is for you.

Especially if you planted anything this fall.

Mulch will help keep the soil temperature at an even keel so you wont have frost and thaw upheaval.

Plants that haven't established a good strong root system are prone to this and often winter kill because they pulled from the ground where plant crowns and roots are killed off be the cold.

Anything planted from September on in colder climates should be protected with a few inches of mulch.

There still is no guarantee for mums (mulch heavily and don't cut them back).

Autumn's Natural Mulch

Leave are one of "Nature's" gifts to us.

They give us oxygen, take in carbons, cool us, buffet noises, and sometimes the drag of raking them.

However, leaves also provide something else.

Mulch and lots of it.

Leaves work as an insulator for many plants and offer food for many microbes that feed on them and turn them into black gold for our gardens.

If you can work some into your soil now, they will pretty much have decomposed by next spring.

Leaves enrich soils, sand and help to break down clay.

If you can save some bags of leaves for next year, it is a good idea.

Don't throw them away.

Side Bar:

The past few years I have cut back and placed bags of leaves on tender perennials such as Pineapple sage and Black and blue salvia.

Both are zone 7 hardy and survived our zone 5 winters, coming up bigger and better.

This year I am trying this process on Karen's Gerbera daisies that are zone 8 hardy.

To be continued on that one.

I do this for a few reasons.

I like to mess around and try something different.

If I can save a few bucks on plants, I'm all for that.

I like a challenge every now and then.

The whole idea is to keep the ground from freezing and killing off your plants.

So far, it works.


All life needs water and this is something I'm always having to remind people of.

We have a tendency to forget about watering this time of year.

After all, the plants may have lost their foliage or died back by now.

That's right my friend, keep watering.

Especially your new plantings.

When it comes to trees and shrubs, they are considered new plantings into the second year, so keep them watered as well.

Roots are still growing until the ground freezes.

If you live where the ground doesn't freeze, than your hardy plant roots continue to grow all winter.

That means water.

Not just your new plantings, but your established evergreens cry for moisture during the winter.

Again, it doesn't matter where you live, if they aren't getting the moisture they need, you may lose your Evergreen (especially if it is less than two years old).

This holds especially true in regions where it gets snowy and cold and the harsh winter winds get blowing.

Keeping your plants hydrated as long as possible will minimize the stress of winter.

You can spray an anti-desiccant like "Wilt Proof"on your evergreens (hollies, rhodies, etc) to help retain moisture.

You may live in an area where some kind of a wind break or wrapping is needed to help protect your special plants.

However, above all water them as long as the weather allows and as needed to keep them going strong.

Tree wraps

and burlap offer a different kind of protection.

Burlap is often used as a wind break, protecting many shrubs and small trees against the bitterly harsh, cold winter winds that can literally kill off or severely damage some shrubs and young plantings.

Others may use burlap as a deterant to keep hungry deer from grazing.

Wrapped tight, burlap also prevents snow damage.

Tree wraps also multi-task.

You can use these handy dandy, flexible pieces of vinyl to keep critters of all sizes from chewing the bark of small or young trees.

If more than half of the "Cambium" is exposed or chewed through, you can expect some die back or complete death of your prized trees.

If you live where there are real winter temperatures, tree wrap not only keeps hungry creatures from chewing up your plants, but earns its keep preventing

Sun scald happens when the temperatures go up and down repeatedly

Freeze thaw, freeze, thaw.

Sap and juices begin to flow and then freeze again.

As you know, freezing liquid expands, and when this happens enough times, tree bark weakens and splits wide open exposing the cambium.

Sun scald may be a small split of run up and down the trunk.

It happens on the South to Southwest side of a tree because that is where the sun is beating and it has all day to thaw.

Even when the temperatures are below freezing and the sun is shining, the fluids warm enough to flow.

Young trees are susceptible to this, especially those with thin bark like maples.

If you feel the need, you can give all your plants a light feeding of a slow release fertilizer like 'Osomacote."

Slow release will gradually feed, but wont give the plants that false sense of "It's Time To Grow."

Okay, you are almost there.


If you are really energetic, you may want to get a jump on some pruning as well.

Fall and winter is an ideal time to prune many of your shrubs and small trees.

The foliage has dropped and you can see every branch and twig.

Break out your pruners and loppers.

Be sure to use bypass blades for this task and hopefully your blades are sharp enough not to tear the branches.

Bypass pruners offer a nice clean cut, where anvil pruners crush as the cut (avoid this).

mashed and torn cuts don't heal as fast and are an invitation to problems.

If any of your plantings have sick or diseased branches, be sure to sanatize your pruners after wach cut.

Pick and choose the branches you want to cut out or thin out so your shrubs are healthy and strong next year.

Take note to remove a branch or two that are rubbing or look like they will grow together in time.

Do this on shrubs and trees that are late bloomers or bloom on new growth like Rose of Sharon.

If you decide to prune shrubs that bloom in the spring like Forsythia, you are cutting off the buds that will be next year's flowers.

If a prune is needed for these shrubs, do it right after bloom.

Another reason for cool weather pruning is this........

Fungus and insects are pretty much dormant this time of year so you have less chance for problems to develop.

Plus the plants sap flow has slowed way down and healing takes place much faster.

Another plus..............................

Disrupting bird nests is a big thing when we do spring and summer pruning by doing this now, you aren't disrupting the birds.

Wasps may still be an issue in some regions. By pruning and doing yard work on cool days. you wont have to content with stinging insects.

The most important tasks you can do for your plants is to mulch and water as needed.

Well it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive quote or thought for this week.

Very fitting I think.

He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.

Epictetus (55-135 AD) Greek Philosopher

That Epictetus was one smart man.

How often I have grieved or wished for something I didn't have but forget about all of God's blessings I do have.

You too?

This week of America's Thanksgiving, we all need to take some time to rejoice in what we do have.

Canadian friends (and they are many), please rejoice as well.

We all have something we can be thankful for.

For me, the list keeps growing.

Sure I still have wishes, failures, wants and more, but look at what I have.

I have a God and I am free to worship him.

A loving family and friends.

I still have a job (for now)

I have you :-)

And much more.


If that doesn't put a smile on my face, what will?

That is something else to rejoice over,


We all have smiles we can give and share.

Giving is so important and starting with something as simple as a smile.....

You get the picture.

Until next time my friend......

May our "Creator" richly bless you and give THANKS.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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