- Author: Paula Sayer
Winter gardens don't have to be lifeless and barren. While they will never rival the riot of color of Fall, with golden leaves, and the last hurrah of flowering pansies and chrysanthemums, there can still be interest and beauty even in the coldest months.
The garden in winter is altogether different, with silhouettes and structure highlighted by angled sunlight especially in the morning or evening. Pops of colorful berries are more appreciated , as well as seedpods and grasses. Of course evergreen foliage is always a treat especially when contrasted with trees and shrubs with interesting bark or textures.
I haven't mentioned bulbs here, even though ones like Snowdrops and Iris often bloom through the snow.. Also since Inyo Mono counties have a wide range of hardiness zones, you should check plants are suitable for your area.
Firstly think of where to place plants to make the most of your regional conditions and your winter habits-both indoors and out. Consider the views of the winter garden you'll see from indoors, drinking your morning coffee or resting in your comfy chair.
Birches are on the edge of their comfort zone here as they don't tolerate drought well but in the right area the white bark of a birch offers a striking contrast to a backdrop of evergreens. Paperbark Maple’s curls of copper colored bark peel off from all over and the green leaves of summer turn into an eye catching cinnamon shade in the fall.
Consider also low growing conifers as ground cover, either for their shapes, color or contrast. Western natives such as Agave and Yucca can add contrast with green spikes and look dramatic (if dangerous) when partly filled with snow.
Seed heads and seed pods
Many plants will turn brown and dry as fall progresses. However for some plants the dried flower heads create the interest , for example shrubs, such as Hydrangeas, have great dried flower heads. Perennials can also sometimes have showy dried flower heads, such as fall flowering Sedum. Seed pods and foliage can also be attractive in winter. Dried seeds, flowers and foliage looks best in gardens with persistent snow coverage in winter, but will also work in any garden where you can contrast them against a backdrop Varieties of Echinacea and Rudbeckia make great seed heads and attract winter feeding birds, so don't cut them back until the spring to get the most interest from these plants.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
You would think that training in plants would qualify a person to give advice on, say, gardening. Actually that’s true. I do know a lot about plants but many questions I get have nothing to do with gardening. Or plants.
On those cold days in winter when I wonder why I didn’t stick with that engineering degree, I can count on someone calling in experiencing what sounds like the plotline of a Stephen King novel: a quiet, single person who spends a lot of time at home is suddenly plagued by invisible biting insects with a taste…for human flesh!
What they are likely experiencing is a disorder called Eckbom’s syndrome, but everyone calls it delusory parasitosis. Delusory parasitosis was first described in 1937 by a Swedish neurologist who, as you probably already guessed, was named Dr. Eckbom. Basically victims see or feel imaginary bugs.
Because people with the disorder are otherwise rational, they usually seek in earnest a way to control the perceived infestation. This involves calling friends, exterminators, the health department, and eventually me.
Most complaints I've receivedover the years involve being “bitten” while at home walking across a carpet or rug, or while sitting on furniture. To affected people the bugs and biting seem real, and all the evidence in the world won’t convince them otherwise. Occasionally they come to me first, but more commonly I am about their sixth choice.
Arkansas was a lot more humid than here and people tended to stay inside and remain sedentary, so I received a lot of calls. The dryness here makes life tough on springtails which seem to get my clients started on the road of delusion. We also tend to get out of the house more here in the Eastern Sierra.
I probably end up with these delusional clients because nobody wants to be in the position to tell a person seeing things they’re nuts to their face. So they send them to me since I’m supposed to know all about insects.
I’ll get pieces of dried skin, lint, hairs, or scabs brought in envelopes or stuck onto tape. This is called the “matchbox sign” because I suppose in days of yore when matchboxes were commonplace, sufferers would bring in their imaginary pests in matchboxes. I’ve only seen a few matchboxes personally. I usually get their invisible friends delivered to me in a medicine vial or stuck on a piece of tape.
Some very unfortunate people even think they have parasites under the skin. Thankfully, these people often fail to make the insect-gardening-Extension connection. The under-the-skin perception is very common with meth users and is related to the physical effects of the drug on the body coupled with psychological problems that come with drug abuse.
People with the disorder do not see this as a medical problem, but an entomological one, so they often don’t see the doctor. Occasionally they do go in to seek relief from the itching. They otherwise seem rational.
My father-in-law is a psychiatrist, and it may surprise that you that I've had more contacts with people bothered by invisible insects than he’s seen his entire career. This is sad because delusional parasitosis can be medically treated. (See your doctor!)
Winter seems to increase the frequency of inquiries I get, which offers evidence that people really do go crazy from staying alone indoors too long. Sometimes the problem is even contagious. Seriously! I’ve seen couples where both people share the same delusion.
I’m told the thing to do for someone suffering from delusional parasitosis is to be kind, investigate and tell them you can’t find anything. The very worst thing to do is to agree with them. This will make the only problem worse. Occasionally I’m fast enough on my feet to figure out some way to convince them to go to a doctor, but not always.
Once I had a client's doctor say that he saw them, too. I seriously doubt he saw a 1/8" long, blue creature with a dozen legs and a single horn crawing on her skin. The fact that all her scabs were on her left side and she's right-handed should have been a warning.
If you or someone you know seems to be complaining about never-ending bug bites on their body from an unknown pest and no control seems to work (in fact it gets worse), the one to see may be a psychiatrist, not the Farm Advisor. I can confirm that someone has no insects on a piece of tape or in a jar, but I can’t otherwise solve the problem.
To learn more about this disease check out http://delusion.ucdavis.edu. But try not to scratch while reading it.
Of course, if you have a problem with real insects or mites, particularly in the garden, please contact the Master Gardener Helpline. They're ready to believe you.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
When a Christmas shopping urge suddenly hits, you may end up adopting a poinsettia. Fortunately they are a lot easier to take care of than a puppy. Actually it's worth mentioning that they are NOT puppies. You are not obligated to care for them for years. Your main goal is to keep it alive through Christmas. After that, the dumpster makes a good home.
To keep a poinsettia alive through December 26 requires only two things: don't let it freeze and keep it well-watered.
The most common problem with poinsettias at home is letting them get too dry. When that happens, the leaves burn and fall off. This leaves you with a few naked stems adorned with a some sad, little bracts. Something like a potted plant version of Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree. It will not grow new leaves to fill in the bald area by Christmas Eve.
It's very important to check your plants every day for water. The best way I've found to do this is to pick them up. If they are lightweight, they need water. Fingers don't tend to work well as a gauge in this case. Note that I'm not saying to water them every day, just to check them. Nearly as bad as being too dry is allowing them to sit in a continual pool of water. When the root zone is constantly saturated, they tend to get diseases. This will conveniently kill them off right before all your fussy family comes to visit.
I usually follow this routine:
- Pick up the pot. If it's light, I water it thoroughly.
- I come back in about 20 or 30 minutes and check it. If there is still water standing in the sleeve and the soil is wet, I drain out the excess from the sleeve. You don't need to fertilize them.
- Repeat daily.
After the holidays, I throw the plant out. Poinsettias make fine, green house plants but realistically, you won't get it to turn color for next year's holiday season, and it will be tall and leggy. Commercial growers use plant growth regulators and careful adjustment of temperature to control the height. They (and you) can initiate flowering by regulating day length, but it is hard to find a dark spot in the house. Plus it's a real pain to move the plant in and out your closet every single day at 4:30. Just toss the plant out and buy a new one each year. A nurseryman will be grateful for the business, and that will cancel out any bad karma from throwing out the plant.
If the thought of tossing out a perfectly good plant still disturbs you, send it home with a visiting guest. You'll remain guilt-free and maybe smooth out some family discord in the process.
- Author: Jan Rhoades
After a busy spring filled with garden preparation and early planting, followed by a summer of weed fighting and too many tomatoes, and, finally, an autumn of processing the bountiful harvest, it seems fitting that a backyard gardener should get a long winter’s rest to enjoy the fruits of such labor. Right? Well, somewhat right. Though there is not so much to do in the garden during the winter, there are still some very important maintenance chores and some little tasks that will make for a better garden come spring. So, put on that old jacket and wooly hat…time to put the garden to bed!
Pull up old vines and plants that are not producing. Insect pests that feed on these plants in the summer have probably laid their eggs on them. These eggs will overwinter and hatch in the spring, hungry and ready to eat your new plantings. Other pests, such as squash bugs, use old plant debris to live in over the winter…so, best to do a thorough clean-up. If these old plants are not diseased, they can be worked into the garden soil to add valuable organic matter. Fall is an excellent time to amend garden soil. Well-rotted manure, compost, fertilizer and leaves can all be incorporated before the ground freezes, enhancing beneficial microorganisms and soil insects.
If you still have root crops such as beets, carrots, parsnips and turnips, they can be mulched with straw or leaves and dug up as needed. Some say these vegetables turn sweeter after the ground cools. Kale, chard, cabbage and spinach can also withstand winter cold. Be sure to mulch around them to protect their roots and preserve soil moisture. Winter squash and pumpkins should be harvested before heavy frost damages them. If you planted garlic this fall, it will need regular watering and a good layer of mulch.
Annual flowers need to be pulled up and composted. Perennials should be cut back and mulched when the ground has become quite cold. Good mulching materials include straw, pine needles and leaves.
Raspberries and blackberries also need to be cut back. The canes that bore fruit should be pruned to ground level and mulching around the base of these bramble fruits is also good. Berries need water in the winter if there are dry spells. Strawberries also need a thick layer of mulch to protect them.
Trees and shrubs need water during the winter, too. Give them ample water through the fall and then water about once a month during the winter. Watering in the winter is tricky – try to pick a day when temperatures are above freezing, and water early in the day so water can be absorbed before temperatures drop at night. If you have fruit trees, remember that dormant spraying, pruning and other special treatments, such as spraying for leaf curl, are important winter tasks.
So, you can see, no rest for the weary gardener. But, one of the pleasures of these longer nights is hunkering down in front of the fire to spend some quality time with those gorgeous, enticing seed catalogues. Spring is just around the corner!
- Author: Alison Collin
- Remember to winterize irrigation systems before the heavy freezes start. If you have a “frost free” faucet attached to the wall of your house, make sure to disconnect any hoses from it, especially those with a pressure nozzle attached. The mechanism is inside the house wall, and the stretch between the mechanism and the actual faucet is prone to bursting in cold weather if water cannot drain from it. The same applies to “splitters” or Y connectors – either remove completely or make sure that the nozzles are in the open position.
- If you banded trees with Tanglefoot for insect control, remove the bands for the winter.
- Check any plant ties to make sure that they have not become too tight over the summer and loosen or reapply as necessary.
- If you did not harvest bush or climbing beans when fresh, leave them to dry on the vines and then harvest them as dry beans for use in soups. Put them in the freezer for a couple of days after shelling them to kill off any bugs.
- If you are planning to use straw mulch over the winter, make sure that you buy straw and not hay. Hay contains seeds of grasses, oats or alfalfa and although these are nutritious for stock they will rapidly grow in the garden – and who needs all that weeding?