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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Old Man Winter Gives Us a Break

We are heading into a week that I like to call my wrap-up week. There are some things in our yards that need to have been done by now, or at least you should be wrapping them up this week. This is also the week that America celebrates Veterans Day. Unlike Memorial Day, when we remember those who died fighting for our country, Veterans Day is to honor those who served in the United States Armed Forces. At 11 am, on the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice was signed and the fighting during World War I came to an end. President Woodrow Wilson declared this day a national holiday, so people could honor those who served by flying an American flag at our homes and businesses. It’s a day to thank a veteran or a soldier for their service to our country, and at 11 am, to have a moment of silence to show our respect.

Like on Memorial Day, poppies are the flowers associated with this national holiday. We usually grow a crop of Icelandic poppies to be ready for sale now and throughout the winter months. The poppies will keep on blooming until they can’t take the heat around June. I usually mix them into beds with delphiniums, foxgloves, hollyhocks, larkspur, snapdragons and love-in-a-mist for a great spring show. It’s time to have located and planted these plants or seeds of these plants.

Another thing I have checked off my list is to green up some areas for winter with ryegrass. If you are going to do that, it’s time to do it, as the seed needs a little warmth to germinate. I have a few areas that I like to green up for the winter months. At the beginning of my driveway I have a small area of turf that is lined with natural stone, bordering beds that will be blooming all winter and through Easter, which this year will be on April 4. When my winter hardy flowers and tulips are blooming at the end of my driveway, I like the grass to be lush and green. It seems a little crazy since maybe two cars a day go past my driveway, but it looks so good up against those rock walls. That is the place that Mimi, Barney, our Corgi, and I wind up our day after dinner. We take a walk to digest our dinner and to see the plants around the yard with our lights on them, a totally different perspective than seeing them during daylight hours. Barney patrols around protecting us from anything that might be hiding in the bushes, like a ferocious deer or a lost cat. He also helps us by fertilizing every post, tree trunk or rock that needs a good marking.

There is another area close to the front door walkway that we enjoy seeing green all winter, again bordered by stone. That bed is full of blooming Shi Shi Sasanquas that are at least 10 years old with their dark green foliage and dark pink blooms. The ryegrass makes it look all the better. There is also a view from our kitchen window of the backside of the levee of our pond that is refreshing to see green. In the spring, the same family of geese has been nesting and hatching goslings back there for the last 10 years. As they try, yet again, to outsmart the local fox, the ryegrass makes the baby geese look a little cuter as they learn to navigate their new world. To my knowledge, not one has survived that wily fox. If you decide to play around with green grass in the winter months by using ryegrass, be sure to use the annual ryegrass called f Froghair. It never grows tall enough to need mowing, and it’s not so hard for your real turf grass to recover from when the spring green-up returns. The other annual ryegrass gets very tall and lays all over your turf grass causing recovery problems in the spring…plus who wants to mow grass all winter? I let the other 90% of my grass go natural, as we do like for winter to look like winter, so we can enjoy all the distinctly different seasons of the year.

In the areas of my turf where we don’t put ryegrass seed and in our beds where we don’t plant bulbs, I have put out a pre-emergent to slow down the germination of weed seeds. Winter weeds can take over an area in your turf, and given enough time, can also make recovery during the green-up very difficult for your grass. It can leave bare spots in your yard that you’ll have to deal with next spring. It’s too easy to stay on top of weeds in your grass and in the beds during the winter months to not put out some pre-emergent now and then again in February. I have winterized my irrigation system by getting all the water out of my pipes so they won’t freeze and split when it gets cold enough. I have a few faucets around the yard that I’ll leave functional in case we plant something new during the winter months that needs to be watered in or if we have a dry winter. The faucets on the sides of my house are protected from freezing with outdoor foam faucet covers made for that purpose. It was this week last year that we had temperatures in the teens, so it’s time to get ready for any surprises like that.

I have not begun cutting my perennials back just yet. I’d like to see winter burn them a little before I start that process. I feel like by preemptively cutting things back this time of year, I would be risking a weird Mississippi warm up in November or December, which might cause the plants to put on some new growth. That new growth could get burned and do some real damage to the plant if the temperatures drop suddenly like we often do. I cut my perennials back in stages as winter dictates, until they are cut back to the ground. Then I can lightly mulch them and put them to bed until spring. I don’t freshen up mulch in our big beds until springtime. With more rain, cooler temperatures and shorter days, plants are not taking up much water. By heavily mulching in the winter, I feel like I’m just asking the soil to stay wet longer, which is good for nothing. I would rather see the soil of the bed in winter be exposed to the sunlight and have a chance to dry out between rains. When the night temperatures get back into the 60s, consecutively, usually around mid April, I will mulch everything to help retain some moisture and keep the weeds to a minimum.

Mimi has planted our garden this year with seeds of plants that we enjoy all winter. She had the foresight to sow the seeds while the ground was still warm enough back in October. This year we will be enjoying and sharing carrots, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, several kinds of kale, several kinds of lettuces and arugula. We have a close friend who can work culinary magic on any kind of produce that we share with him, which, he then shares with us. Win Win! In the same area of the garden are our Asian persimmon trees with branches dragging the ground they have so many persimmons on them. I will harvest them today before the birds find them, but I’ll leave a few for them too. Today we will put our bird feeders out so the birds will get used to knowing that they can stop off here for a meal when the pickings get slim later this winter.

I have my barn loaded with this year‘s firewood. I have loaded our log holder near the back door with a few weeks worth of firewood that I will replenish as it gets used. I keep the firewood near the house blown off when we blow off the back deck, since roaches and beetles like to find homes under the bark of the split firewood. If I don’t keep the wood blown off, a roach or beetle will find their way inside the house when I bring it in to be burned. I camp and hunt a lot during the winter months. Mimi enjoys a break from me and loves to have great big fires while she enjoys some solitude. I’ll make sure she is set up so fire starting is as easy as it can be for her. My checklist of the annual have to’s is done. We still have a big scape changing project continuing in my backyard. The next step will be adding pea gravel walkways, wide enough for a golf cart to putter around on, that will meander all over the yard. We can’t wait to see what a huge difference the paths will make in our flow of things in the backyard. I am hoping you have reached that point on your list of gardening preparedness so you can relax and enjoy the gift of a winter break. We are prepared to spend a lot of time at home while the pandemic unfolds. Make your backyard oasis a place so great that you start to really believe that there is no place like home.

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