How the warm winter effects your home gardens

With unseasonable temperatures yet again this week, I wondered what the effects would be if this continued until spring. We’ve got a while to go and we may still have some normal temperatures and precipitation. However, the weather projection through the end of the month is for warmer than usual conditions.

So, what can we expect? Realistically, there isn’t much we can do. We can watch for a few problems.

Insects: A warm winter usually means more insects and their eggs will survive, resulting in a buggy spring. This will be lessened if we have a string of very cold days. Mosquitoes may emerge earlier.

Ticks: Anytime temperatures approach 50°F, ticks become active. So, go through the tick prevention routine when you go out: Use repellents, sprays, lotions and treated clothing. Wear long pants and sleeves, pick light colors. The lighter colors make it easier to see ticks. Place your clothes in a hot dryer when you come in — dry conditions are lethal to ticks. Shower and examine yourself for ticks. Remove them promptly. Unattached ticks are not likely to cause any problems unless they are already bloated with blood. Clean tick bites and watch for changes in the appearance of the bite. Stay out of dense underbrush or high grasses. Ticks do not leap up nor fall from the trees. They hitch a ride when you brush against vegetation.

Some plants require a specific period of cool/cold weather and may experience smaller crops. Reduced germination is also possible if your seeds require a cold period; stratification is the official term.

Detail of buds on a sentry peach tree. Owner of Bechdolt Orchard in Lower Saucon Township Bill Rowe said that because of the warm weather we've been having this winter the buds on the peach trees are starting to, 'push too early'. If the buds are too developed before a freeze it could damage the crop.   /// - LOWER SAUCON TOWNSHIP - EMILY PAINE / THE MORNING CALL  - Taken Thursday, December 31, 2015.  keyword: Robson
Most people are enjoying the unseasonably warm weather this winter, but trees and shrubs may develop too early in warm winters. This can destroy flower displays and plant development. (The Morning Call file photo)

Trees and shrubs may develop early in warm winters. This can destroy flower displays and plant development. Tender shoots and flowers will be damaged or destroyed if there  is a frost or cold snap. Plants may mature out of sync with their pollinators; fewer fruits and seeds or, conversely, the early emergence of pests can increase damage to the early growth.

Spring bulbs may sprout green earlier. If a frost or freeze kills off the foliage, it will probably come back. If the flowers were starting to bloom, they will probably die instead of blooming.

Realistically, all you can do is pay attention to the garden. Treat pest infestations if they occur and cover emerging blooms if we have a frost after buds start opening. Be prepared to lose the flowers on spring shrubs if cold temperatures return.

Meanwhile, enjoy the weather. Fran and I spent a relaxing afternoon in the warm sun. It was peaceful, relaxing and restorative. We should have been tending to chores, but sometimes it is great to just sit and observe the garden.

Sowing Seed Question

When you say “Sow seeds that require a cold period for germination, do you mean we should sow them indoors or out? Thank you! — Barbara.

Some seeds, poppies for example, need a period of cold temperatures to germinate. When I say to sow those seeds, I mean outside. However, this year things are a bit out of the usual as we had temperatures in the 60s this week. Anyway, yes, sow the seeds now. You can chill seeds indoors by storing them in a refrigerator instead of planting them outside.

Store the seeds in a damp paper towel or in a moist planting medium. Enclose the towel or container in a plastic bag and close it, but allow a small opening to combat excess moisture from condensation. Place the package in the refrigerator for about a month before planting.

Get Ready for the Birds

Some birds are here all year and hopefully you have provided food, water and shelter for them. But you can also assist the migratory ones, both those just passing through and those who summer in your yard. Clean out bird houses, clean and consider adding feeding stations and get those birdbaths ready. Remember that as the weather warns, filled birdbaths should be emptied every few days and the bowls brushed to remove any insect eggs or larva. Feed the birds. They repay us with their songs, their movement and color in the garden and their appetite for garden pests.

Remember that some birds also like fresh sprouted seeds so be prepared to net or screen newly planted seeds or transplants for a few weeks. I have lost many a crop of sunflowers to the birds, frustrating but avoidable. Adding a net or wire dome can save you a lot of annoyance,

Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer.  Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, PO Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.

Week in the Garden

Indoors: Start seed for: Dianthus. Finish sowing seeds for transplanting: Ageratum, lobelia, scabiosa, torenia and verbena. Next week start: Dahlia, larkspur and portulaca.
Follow a schedule for starting seeds. Check packets for instructions such as start indoors four weeks before last frost date. Then, using a calendar, count back from your area’s date (April 10-15 for southern Lehigh Valley, May 10-15 for northern areas) for the appropriate starting time.

Seasonal: Cut back ornamental grasses. Divide when you see new green growth. Examine trees and shrubs. Note damaged limbs and candidates for winter pruning. Please check proper pruning information for each plant and prune as needed and recommended. Take cuttings of African violets and geraniums. Check germination rate for all stored seeds and replace those that perform badly with fresh seed this year. Check for heaved plants, particularly when soil temperatures are fluctuating between freezing and thawing. Get seeds for plants you intend to grow from seed. Keep pathways, driveways and guttering clear of dead plants and leaves. Cut the flower stalks of amaryllis plants after the flowers fade but keep the greens warm and watered in a sunny area if you plan on keeping them until next year. Move in some of those bulbs you potted this fall for forcing. Water and move into light as green leaves emerge.

Chores: Keep deicing materials, shovels, scrapers and other winter tools in a convenient space. Maintain winter equipment. Use fresh gas and check for damage before or after each use. Clean seed starting containers and other pots. Check supplies for spring and purchase as needed. Use a humidifier, humidity trays or misting to increase the humidity around your houseplants. Mark off beds, new plantings, plants that are late to break dormancy in the spring and delicate plants. Stay off them when dealing with snow removal. Provide deer, rabbit and groundhog protection for vulnerable plants. Reapply taste or scent deterrents. Clean and fill bird feeders regularly. Clean up spilled seed and empty hulls. Dump, scrub and refill birdbaths at least once a week. Consider a heater to provide water during cold weather. Clear gutters and direct rainwater runoff away from house foundations.

Tools, equipment, and supplies: Inventory, clean, disinfect, restock, and store seed starting and potting supplies. Clean and repair spring/summer tools. Replace or send for service now.

Safety: Photograph storm damage before clearing or repairing for insurance claims and file promptly. Avoid tick and mosquito bites: Use an insect repellent containing Deet on the skin. Apply a permethrin product to clothing. Wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, hats and long pants when working in the garden. Stay hydrated. Drink water or other non-caffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages. Apply sunscreen, wear hats and limit exposure to sun. Wear closed-toe shoes and gloves; use eye protection; and use ear protection when using any loud power tools.

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