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Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #375 - That's Hellebore magic that keeps those flower buds from freezing
December 04, 2020

Well! There goes another month between issues of “Dallying”. Lots happening in life but not too much in the garden. Today’s snow probably indicates the end of the outdoor gardening except for a few hangers on in the vegetable garden. This Hellebore is growing just off the front steps and I find it fascinating. Again, I should have paid more attention in that plant physiology class and then maybe I might understand how this plant can put up such advanced flower buds in December and have them sit there all winter with no damage and then pop open at the first bit of warmth and sunshine near the end of winter. I’ve cleaned up most of the vegetable garden but have purposefully ignored most of the perennial gardens. Leaving the old stems, twigs and leaves provides a winter home for a host of beneficial insects which is the best excuse for procrastination. In the spring much of it will have composted making cleanup even easier. I did rake a few leaves in the front so that they wouldn’t go through the snow blower. They were moved to the veggie garden and then run over with the lawnmower to chop them into smaller bits making them easier to compost and become part of the soil next spring.

Leeks are one of the best holdovers in the veggie garden. We have had a couple of feasts on them and they will be making regular appearances on the dinner menu for the next week or so. They also make a great soup especially with Potatoes. They are perfectly happy in the cold weather and actually become tastier after a few frosts.

All summer the subirrigation containers have made vegetable gardening much easier and more productive. Their winter preparation continues in that vein. Cut off the remaining vegetation and tip them over so that the water reservoir drains. That’s it, all done. Most of these boxes are a commercial product from Earthbox and some of them have been in use here for about 10 years.

Here’s another autumn chore that often gets neglected here until it’s too late. Emptying the rain barrels has a dual purpose. It drains the barrels so that they can be rinsed and cleaned and ready for next spring. It reminds me to use a great deal of that water to saturate the ground around any evergreens so that they will have sufficient moisture to call upon in the early spring when the brightening sun awakens their needles and starts their photosynthesis running, a process which will be looking for water. Winter burn on many evergreens is not the result of cold temperatures but the start of transpiration as the sun brightens and a lack of water in the soil to replace what the needles are giving off. The other great use for those barrels of water is making sure that any new bulbs that you have planted have been sufficiently watered. It’s always amazing how much gunk accumulates in the bottom of those barrels over the summer reminding us just what gets carried in our rain water or is washed off the roof of the house.

Some of our perennials are as interesting in the winter as they are in the summer. This clump of Zebra grass is a great feature in the late summer but it dominates the front yard all winter. Those feathery inflorescence wave and flutter in the wind adding a wonderful element of movement to an otherwise still landscape. They are not a great source of food for the overwintering birds but a few will look for seeds or just go for a ride on them as they move in the wind.

I might squeeze in one more “Dallying” before the holidays but if I don’t then I hope you all have a happy and socially distanced holiday. I know that we won’t be seeing many of our Grandchildren this year and the magic of Zoom will have to suffice. I’ll return in the new year when the seed packets start to arrive in the mail, bringing with them the promise of a new beginning in the garden and in our lives.

This is the place for an apology and a mea culpa. A reader was quite appalled when I said that Black Walnuts were only good for squirrel food and she was correct. She reminisced about years of gathering them, shelling them and cooking with them, noting that their meat was much richer tasting than the Walnut variety that is usually found in stores. She did allow as how it was a rather dirty and time consuming task but, to her, it was worth the effort.

A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers!
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