Winter Chores – part 1

By Larry Hummel

Winter is a good time to catch up on a number of projects around the yard and complete the usual chores that the dormant winter plants allow.

Trees and understory shrubs.  These plants range from 30 foot oaks to the slow growing deciduous hollies that are 5 to 7 feet tall.  Starting in December we usually start to trim the scores of trees we have planted over the last 15 years.  The principal ones are white, swamp white and bur oaks, spice bush, service berry, button bush, Kentucky coffee, bald cypress, flowering dogwood, arrow wood and deciduous holly.  We work our way through the yard cutting errant limbs and the lower branches.  The branches are added to the brush piles through out the property.

Cull cedars.  The woods part of the property on the south facing land has way too many cedars that are way too close together (fire used to keep cedars under control).  Each winter we thin some of the cedars, trim the branches for brush piles and save the poles for fence posts, compost piles and other uses.  A down side to this thinning is that it opens up the land to bush honeysuckle.

Eliminate bush honeysuckle.  Each fall and winter we try to eliminate as much bush honeysuckle as time permits.  When the ground is soft from a rain it is easy to pull up most plants.  When things are dryer we cut the plant at ground level and treat the stump with a mixture of roundup and windshield wiper fluid (50% each).

Plant trees and shrubs.  Fall and winter is the best time to transplant most trees (not dogwoods).  This winter we will/have planted witch hazels, hop trees and some oaks.  We have both shaded and sun areas to add plants.  Newly planted trees and shrubs will be watched and watered when necessary for 2 or 3 years as their roots will not be fully formed until this time.

Work on the thicket.  In the middle of the front yard there was a small grove of trees when we moved here.  Over the years we have added trees and shrubs to expand the thicket.  Over the winter we will add a few shade shrubs, add brush to the middle and trim some of the grape vines that, if left alone will completely cover some of the smaller trees in the thicket.  The thicket forms a nice wildlife cover for birds and other critters.

Modify fencing.  The @#**&% deer require constant effort to thwart their appetites.  As we add plantings to the area, fencing is something that must accompany the planting.  Complicating the work is the deer browse project we are working on with SNR and the need to leave certain areas open for the study (it is an uncomfortable feeling to prepare the ground, plant forbs and then watch them be eaten).  This winter we will expand some of the fencing and put in one new gate.    Compost piles – With the leaves and garden cleanups we have a constant need for compost piles and this winter, one requires additional support and one needs expansion.

Clean up gardens.  We have several gardens that require winter cleanups, Joan’s native hosta garden, the mailbox shade/sun garden, the nursery area and other smaller plantings.  The cleanup also stresses the compost capacity.

Wood chips.  We share wood chips, with a neighbor, that are received from the utility tree trimming companies.  There are better materials to use for mulch, but none are cheaper.  With the use of a tractor and front loader the wood chips are spread over the property to areas that we cannot cut with the tractor and areas that we want to discourage the growth of weeds.  Winter is a good time to add to the paths in the prairie, areas next to Melrose, and heavily shaded areas under cedars where not much will grow and areas where we want to improve the quality of the soil over time.  A circle of chips around trees prevents having to mow too close to it and possibly damaging the bark.  In other areas it slows the run off of water.  We use a lot of the free chips.

Collect leaves.  We have an attachment for the tractor called a three bag collector.     Along with the belly mower it effectively collects leaves after mulching them.  This renders the leaves just about perfect for composting and they are added to the piles.  Water must be added, however the piles are big enough that turning them is out of the question and they must decompose on their own.  This just takes a little longer and the piles are a haven for critters.  We find snake skins in the fencing holding the piles, snake eggs, salamanders, lizards, speckled king snakes, black snakes and other critters in the piles.  The compost piles and wood chip piles form small critter colonies.

To be continued next month.