Margaret Lauterbach

Time to make your gardens and lawns winter-ready

If you have yew shrubs, please cover them with burlap or anything that will last through winter. They look tasty to deer, elk and pronghorns, but once they bite into yew, large and vigorous animals die. A couple of years ago, five large pronghorns lay dead in one yard in Idaho, all from eating yew. There are alternative shrubs you can grow, many even native to this area.

▪  We’re just about 10 days shy of winter darkness, which means less than 10 hours of sunshine each day until about Feb. 6. Most of the active gardening season is over, and it is a time for most vegetation to rest, gathering resources and strength for another season of growing. Grasses such as those in lawns tiller (provide more blades of grass) at this time, trees build leaf, twig and flower buds, and some weeds such as cheatgrass begin to grow. Freezing and thawing cycles scarify seeds so that they can germinate at the proper time.

That’s a cue for those of you who would like to do winter sowing. Some perennial seeds require cold treatment before germination, so let nature do that chilling for you. You can sow seed outdoors and hope birds or rodents don’t find it, or sow it in plastic containers such as milk or soda containers, cut three-quarters of the way around, leaving one quarter to serve as a hinge. You may have to lightly water your planting medium from time to time during the winter, so set your containers in an easily accessible place where pets won’t knock them over.

Reduced hours of sunlight, though, mean necessary supplemental lighting for plant growth indoors. Telling folks at Grover’s Pay ’n’ Pack what you want to do will elicit good advice about light fixture options. Harbor Freight has advertised greenhouses at very modest prices, but if you go that route, make sure it’s well anchored to the ground, because we have some pretty strong winds here. And you’ll have to face heating and cooling requirements of plants. Incidentally, some folks are trying to grow some things such as strawberries in compost socks, which are those tubes used in erosion control and silt diversion during construction activity. If that works out, those tubes could be used to grow shallow-rooted plants almost anywhere. Others grow them in roof gutters with success.

▪  This has been quite an odd gardening year for me. Fruit trees bore heavily – even my fig shrubs put out an early “breba” crop of ripe figs, and later the main crop began ripening quickly. Last year I harvested only one ripe fig, and that was the first ripe one I’d ever had. This year I ate several and filled eight dehydrator trays. My figs here are planted in the ground, sheltered from the north by our house, from east and west by house and greenhouse, open only to the south. Many in this area grow figs in containers, moving them into the garage for the winter.

Cardoons and artichokes did pretty well; both bore edible “chokes” that were tasty but small. They’re supposed to be perennial, so I’m leaving them in the ground. I’ve grown Imperial Star artichokes before, but plants never reached the size the regular artichokes did. Both artichokes and cardoons went to bud, indicating they thought they’d been through a winter. Most of the kale grew as it should have. Tomatoes, indeterminate and determinate, did well, but carrots failed to germinate, and my Brussels sprouts plant formed wimpy clumps of small leaves instead of tight little balls. Most beans for dry use did well – both bush and pole beans – but one variety of pole bean yielded a scant handful of beautiful white beans with blue dots. I’ll have to research the variety.

I’ve harvested a lot of the Italian borlotto pole beans and a good supply of the Basque black pole bean, Alubia de Tolosa. Lettuce was only fair, and so were chiles and bell peppers. The big harvest of vegetables were in purple and orange-meated sweet potatoes. I did have some of the yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes too, as well as a good supply of All-blue volunteer potatoes.

No vole damage this year, I think thanks to our new-to-us part terrier, since I saw one dead vole in a path near her favorite hunting area. Good dog!

▪  Holidays are approaching, so it’s time for my winter housecleaning. This is my last column for this year, but I’ll be back in the Statesman on Sunday, Jan. 5. Be well.