Archive for the ‘Winter Gardening’ Category

Snowy Weather

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Managing Snow:

There are three types of snow people in the world; those who shovel, those who use a snow thrower, and those who just pay others because its easier and they don’t like the cold much.

Myself, I am a shoveler. There is a Zen to shoveling snow if you like to use your body and you like being outside. There are four basic tools in my arsenal. A chipper for ice, a square headed garden shovel for wet, icy, heavy snow, a plastic headed plow shovel with which I can push the snow off my walk or driveway, and an ergonomic snow shovel for lifting and tossing snow. I can clear snow as fast as a snow thrower, burn some calories, and work out some of those problems that always float around in the back of the brain while I’m at it. However, I have to confess that as I age, becoming a convert to the snow thrower looks more and more attractive. So here is what I have learned as I consider the prospect of purchasing a snow thrower:

There are a lot of different kinds of snow throwers or blowers and they are suited to different situations. In order to select the right machine, an assessment of needs must be performed first.  How long is your driveway? How much snow do you anticipate receiving each year? How heavy is the snow? How wide a space does your snow removal needs cover?

Most urban and sub-urban dwellers, have just a driveway and a sidewalk to clear off. A single stage gas blower will do the trick for this sized job. These types of snow blowers will touch the ground, so be aware of the area you are clearing. Most single stage gas snow blowers retail for $300 to $900. However, if you find that you get a lot of snow, or have a larger area to clear, a two stage gas blower will save you time and help avoid further back aches. These types of snow blowers have wide augers to clear off larger areas, while throwing the snow further. Depending on the type of two stage gas snow blower you are looking at, prices can range from $600 to over $2000 according to Consumer Reports.

If you have a gravel driveway, you’ll want to ensure that the auger doesn’t touch the ground (thus picking up rocks which can be hard on the snowblower, and cause harm if to items near the path of the blowing snow. Most two stage blowers are perfect for gravel driveways. If you find that you only get a few inches per snowfall, or have a relatively small area to clear, you may find that a single stage electric blower will take care of your needs. Electric snow throwers range between $100 and $300 and will clear an area of about 11-18inches.

De-Icing Alternatives to Salt

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Salt Alternatives

Weather predictions for our area for the next week (two weeks as I write this column) call for icy days and more temperatures below freezing. Ice is one of the most dangerous outcomes of winter, making going out onto walks, roads, and platforms a risk for the most sure footed. The popular way to manage ice is with salt, an effective tool for decades. However, studies show that salts can have many detrimental effects on the environment.

Salt destroys soil structure by killing some soil bacteria. This allows more soil to erode into streams, taking the salt with it. Salt erosion contaminates drinking water to levels that exceed public consumption standards. It doesn’t evaporate, or otherwise get removed once applied, so it remains a persistent risk to aquatic ecosystems and to water quality.

 Salt can change water chemistry, causing minerals to leach out of the soil, and it increases the acidity of water, according to Dr. Stephen Norton, a professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Maine. Salt acts like a desiccant and will dry out and crack animal paw pads – house pets are particularly susceptible. Additionally it corrodes metals like automobile brake linings, frames, and bumpers, and can cause cosmetic corrosion.

California and Nevada restrict road-salt use in certain areas to reduce damage to roadside vegetation. Massachusetts is using alternative de-icers like calcium magnesium acetate and potassium acetate to prevent contamination of drinking water.They are much more expensive than road salt, but if you factor in the loss of wildlife, soil erosion, water quality and corrosion, these alternatives start to look like a real bargain. New York State is considering doing the same to protect New York City’s watershed. Canada is considering classifying conventional de-icers as toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

For home use, there are many alternatives with varying degrees of environmental safety. Urea is often used for de-icing as it melts ice and is not corrosive. Alfalfa meal is a natural fertilizer that actually melts the ice, provides traction and won’t harm the environment. It is different than pelletized alfalfa sold in feed stores. Look for meal in.

Sand is not a de-icer, but it does offer traction on ice. Sand adds to sedimentation in streams if it isn’t cleaned off the roads, but on our walks it might even be a welcome addition to our local compacted soils. Kitty litter, gravel and ash don’t actually melt ice, but they do provide traction, but have similar impact on streams and waterways as sand. 


Working That Garden in January

Monday, January 5th, 2009

January Tips for the Unrepressed Gardener

  With temperatures projected to be around freezing in the week of January 11th, there is still work that can be done for the gardener who is a little cold hardy. For myself, if I don’t get out into the sun a few times a week, I get just a little depressed, so when the weather is reasonably warm like it will be this week, getting out and about really helps limit the Seasonal Affect Disorder!

If there is anything you were hesitant to prune this fall because cutting stimulates growth, this is a good week to cut away. Shrubs and trees are dormant at this time and so will not respond to pruning. If you have a hydrangea that got out of hand, cut it to a height 3 feet below where you would like it to be. I have hydrangea that I cut to the ground every year, these shrubs are incredibly resistant.

This is a great week to work on taking dead wood out of your privet hedge as well. Privet, a classic, and very shapeable hedge material, needs regular thinning and cutting at the right time to keep it looking crisp and wall like. Many of us wait until our privet has grown in to shape it and work on it, wasting growth and making it harder to clean out old dead wood. In the winter, when the shrub is dormant and defoliated, it is a lot easier to find dead wood and remove it. Also, it is as good a time as any to think about what shape your wall of green will take in the spring and perhaps give it a little encouragement.

The same is true for low ornamental trees. This is an excellent time for removing crossing branches (branches that rub against each other), dead branches, and branches that are taking away from the natural shape of the tree. Cutting back wisteria and other aggressive vines can be done at this time. Avoid cutting early spring blooming shrubs like forsythia as their blooms have set for the spring. Cutting them now will reduce the spring blooms with every snip.

If you are looking to have this work done, local landscapers may be willing to perform these tasks at discounted rates as they are much slower in January than they are in June, giving you more time to hit the slopes.