Homegrown: Is the weather too cold for gardening?

Weather is always a hot topic for gardeners, and this year has given us plenty to talk about — a spring heat wave, a dry autumn, and a cold start to winter.

Our freezing December weather will keep the chatter going for months, as well it should, if only as a reminder merely to keep an eye on plants that appear damaged rather than take action with pruning shears.

That can wait until warmer days in spring after signs of life let us know what tissue is dead and what is not.

When growth doesn't resume at any point, removing a plant is usually the only option.

Trimming away stems and branches now on citrus, sages (Salvia), hebe, angel's trumpet (Brugmansia), and other tender or semi-tender trees and shrubs removes what little protection remains for lower parts of plants.

Russian sage (Perovskia) is a good example of a sub-shrub — a perennial with a woody base — with foliage that dies back in severe cold but is quick to reappear in early spring. Allowing perovskia stems to stand tall during winter has more than one benefit.

Besides insulating the woody base, dead stems turn a ghostly white that is wonderfully attractive against an otherwise dull background.

Ground isn't frozen: Even though some have described our December conditions as frigid weather, these cold days don't approach what colder climes experience. Our soil is cold, but not frozen. We can still put a shovel in the ground, though only bulbs and established plants with good root development can handle movement right now into moistened soil.

Although erosion from rain and runoff isn't a current threat, bare surfaces always benefit from being covered. During dry spells, mulch helps keep the soil moist and protects roots.

Fallen leaves provide a fast and easy solution if you have no other materials on hand, but they come with a downside. Unless watered down to compress and hold them in place, they may look messy before they slowly decompose.

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