Gardening Tips: January 15, 2013

After almost two months of living in the Sunshine State I recently returning to the frozen northeast for perhaps six or eight weeks. I picked a tough time to travel as the recent Arctic blast has made traveling a risky business. I quickly found out that pumping gas in Florida short sleeves is no fun when the temperature is near zero. I really wish that more gas stations would allow the gas pump handle to click on automatic so I could sit in the car while the tank is filling.
I will avoid gas stations everywhere that don’t allow this in the future, in bad weather. Almost 40 years ago when I first moved to Greene County, I worked at a gas station in Catskill and in those days there was no such thing as self-service. I spent far too many hours pumping gas in this type of weather and gloves do not allow for making change easily in the era before credit cards became the norm. My arthritic fingers still recall those hours, I suspect.

Price goes up
It is also common for southern gas stations to charge about 10 cents more per gallon for using credit. This practice should be illegal because it surely does not cost the gas station 10 cents a gallon to process a credit card sale. In fact, paying cash requires an attendant, who must also be paid to wait on you! I now boycott gas stations that have this double standard.
Last week Tuesday I was driving through the North Carolina Mountains not far from Ashville when I had to get gas and the temperature was plus four degrees with the wind-chill factor well below zero. A local guy came out of the store, looked at my NY plates and said “Welcome to Dixie!”
Many people worry about the effects of this extreme cold will be on their landscape plants. The concern is actually much more serious in Florida where lots of our food is grown and farmers go to great lengths to try to protect their crops. My kids in Clearwater either covered most of their palm trees or brought them indoors. Here in the Catskill Mountain Region this cold is not all that unusual and our plants should be mostly fine. Timing is the most important factor in dealing with cold weather.

In dormant state
By mid-January our plants are fully dormant and best able to tolerate sub, subzero wind and cold. Zero degrees in October or April would have far more impact. As long as newly planted landscape trees and shrubs were well watered going into the winter, they should be fine. Most cases of so called “winter kill” of hardy plants are usually due to not getting enough water in the fall to grow adequate root systems before the ground freezes.
I would like to hope that the cold will reduce the populations of some pests like deer ticks, stink bugs, and other newcomers like the Emerald ash borer, but I really don’t think it will. Those of you who feed the birds need to keep on feeding them.
As abundant as a year we had for wild mast, (nuts, seeds, and berries) our feathered friends can really use the extra chow right now. I hope you have recycled your Christmas tree into an outdoor bird feeder or at least positioned it nearby a feeder. These trees can provide cover and shelter for the songbirds from predators such as hawks.