Gardening Tips: February 8, 2012

February thoughts
The extraordinarily mild winter of 2012 continues as we enter the shortest/longest month of the year. Perhaps Mother Nature is cutting us a break after last summer’s tropical storms, but the ski industry and related businesses are suffering from lack of snow. It has been years since snow provided any recreational opportunities for me but I feel for the businesses that need the income. I also want to thank all the people who bought snowmobiles, snowplows and other winter gear they have not been able to use. I am sure they blame themselves for this weather.

Personally, I am not suffering at all, but an open winter with no snow cover does stress our landscape plants. This would be a great time to reapply a few inches of bark mulch on frozen perennial beds to keep the ground frozen. Alternating periods of freezing and thawing causes perennials to heave and without a snow blanket, some will perish. If you find plants pushed to the surface, replant them immediately.

For the birds
As usual my bird-feeding column provoked the most e-mail of anything I write about. I want to thank the readers who have sent me their particular ingenuous ways of dealing with squirrels. Please keep them coming! Animal rights activists prohibit me from sharing most of these techniques. One reader wrote, “my squirrels dropped down on the feeder because my upward route baffles were so effective. So, I stretched a cloth across a partly water-filled garbage can and sprinkled seeds on the cloth, hoping to baptize a few and convert them to a change of life, as it turned out, no dice, they just went away. Outsmarting varmints is a lost cause, as they have all day and night to plot and plan, and an instinctive knowledge of geometry.” Thanks Henry!

My latest tactic has been bringing the feeder in at night and not putting it out until midmorning the next day. Seems the grey squirrels disappear by 10 a.m. and are most active from about 7 to 9 a.m. I have no unusual bird species this year but I am pleased to have a pair of cardinals hanging around more than in previous years.

Still a bit too early
It is still too soon to start most vegetable and flower seeds, except for petunias, impatiens, seed geraniums, onions and leeks. Seed catalogues are arriving daily and it is hard to resist these beautiful pictures. This might be a good week for a seed inventory. Most vegetable and flower seeds are good for two or three years but not much more than that. Of course seeds can be tested by placing 10 of them in a moist paper towel in a baggie that is put in a warm location, such as on top of the refrigerator. They should sprout within 10 days if they are still viable. There is not much to do outdoors as mud replaces ice and mud is almost as slippery!

This is a good time to prune apple and pear trees but wait on peaches, cherries and plums until after they bloom. Raspberry and blackberry canes that fruited last year can be removed now and the new canes can be thinned to no more than three canes per linear foot of row. Blueberry bushes as well as currents and gooseberries, are pruned by removing a few of the oldest canes at ground level and allowing as many younger canes to replace them. Keep strawberry beds mulched for another month to six weeks.