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GREEN THUMBS UP: Winter survival tips for gardeners

Outside my snow-plastered windows, winter storm Grayson is lashing the South Shore with gale-force winds and horizontal blasts of snow, creating nearly a perpetual white-out while coastal residents cope with devastating flooding and power outages. Frigid weather resumes as the nor’easter moves out, likely breaking records for our area, with temperatures dipping below zero as another arctic blast moves in over this weekend.

Fortunately, the new fallen snow should offer some protection for our precious plants although Mother Nature’s insulation blanket may have arrived a little too late to protect marginally-hardy plants and shallow-rooted shrubs. Memories of a winter several years ago still persist for many gardeners, when the deep freeze and desiccating winds caused innumerable species of plants to succumb including roses, butterfly bushes, and many broad-leafed evergreens, especially rhododendrons.

When “the weather outside is frightful”, I reluctantly accept Mother Nature’s gift of forced relaxation and settle into a comfortable chair to peruse gardening magazines, books, and catalogs. The winter months are the ideal time to plan new gardens, edit existing landscapes, research new plants, and order from those tantalizing catalogs.

Once the ground thaws and the soil can be tilled, spring fever often leads to impulse buying, resulting in gardens that become merely a collection of plants rather than cohesive designs. To avoid this haphazard approach, consider selecting a specific garden theme and research plant material before the growing season gets underway, narrowing potential plant acquisitions.

Broad categories of garden themes might include a perennial, wildflower, edible, or wildlife garden. Specialized gardens often evolve from these general classifications such as a perennial garden that features a particular plant family or color scheme, a culinary herb garden, or a wildlife garden for birds, butterflies, bees, or hummingbirds.

To ensure success, select a garden theme suitable for your personal site based on the availability of light, soil composition, drainage, and exposure to wind. The availability of light is perhaps the most critical aspect in choosing and developing a garden theme. A sunny location, with 6 to 8 hours of sunlight, will enable you to grow the greatest diversity of flowering plants. Theme gardens that excel in sunny locales include perennial and edible gardens, wildflower meadows, butterfly gardens, and collections of specialty plants including dwarf conifers, roses, iris, or daylilies. Shady sites are ideal for contemplative gardens, woodland wildflowers, and collections of hostas. Other themes, including gardens that focus on perennials, fragrance, wildlife, or hummingbirds, can often be adapted to multiple exposures. The planting of native species is a growing trend.

In recent years, the wonderful world of plant material has exploded with thousands of new cultivars introduced every season thanks to hybridization and international transport of plants from one continent to another. While many local nurseries now feature many of these cutting edge trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and exotic varieties of tropical plants, gardening catalogs, magazines, and the internet offer passionate gardeners the greatest opportunity to view and research new plants during the dormant winter months. Notes and photos I have taken during the past growing season while on garden tours or visiting botanical gardens serve as reminders of new varieties to research and add to my wish list. Although I order multiple packets of seeds to start my annuals and vegetables, I use most catalogs as reference material, compiling a lengthy wish list of new cultivars, knowing that even scarce, unusual plants are often available from local sources.

In the weeks to come, passionate gardeners longing for springtime should be able to pursue a wealth of horticultural opportunities. January is an ideal time to begin searching gardening magazines, the web, and local newspapers for listings of gardening lectures, educational courses, flower shows, and symposiums. Our local garden clubs, plant societies, organizations such as Grow Native Massachusetts, and botanical gardens, including the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Garden in the Woods, and the Arnold Arboretum, offer a wonderful opportunity to escape the winter blues with lectures, workshops, field trips, plant sales, and special events throughout the year to enlighten and educate every level of gardening enthusiast. My calendar for the next few months is chock full of possibilities just waiting to transport me through the winter months and on to the first glimpses of springtime in my own garden.

January is a month for gardeners to dream!


Suzanne Mahler is an avid gardener, photographer and lecturer. She is a member of a local garden club, past president of the New England Daylily Society, an overseer for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and is employed at a garden center.

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Declutter your garden with a good pruning before spring

Amidst this cold, wet and grey weather, some plants are starving for some attention.

Winter can be a prime time for pruning and Master Gardener Brian Minter has tips to help you cut through some of the damage the season may have caused.  

The window of time between mid-January to the end of February when growth starts on local trees offers the opportunity to get rid of the weak, dead and diseased branches.

Minter says this offers more air to flow through the tree, making it more resilient against damage.

“Also in terms of fruit production, more sunlight comes in so the tree actually is sturdier, better growth, cleaner without a lot of algae, lichen and so on,” he told B.C. Almanac guest host Lien Yeung.

‘Let the buds pop’

For the flowering trees and bushes — magnolias, flowering cherries, Japanese azaleas and rhododendrons — he recommends waiting to prune to enjoy the bright blossoms.

Evergreens can use a good cleaning this time of year to prevent big branches from snapping in the case of late season heavy snow.

“With the exception of spruce and pine … the pine trees produce candles, let those candles evolve in the spring, and the spruce. Let the buds pop and then you can prune,” he said.

Having the right tools is a must when diving into a good clean up, and he recommends getting a strong pair of loppers for the bigger branches to avoid breaking sheers.

“When you’ve done pruning in your yard, it’s like great house cleaning, the place just looks so much better but the trees will be stronger.”

Listen to B.C. Almanac every Thursday for more gardening tips and tricks from Master Gardener Brian Minter.

With files from B.C. Almanac

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Put a little ‘spring’ in your step this January with an outdoor greenhouse – The Courier


Students at Manual High School paint trash bins to help people donate gently used clothes.
Astrid Hacker/Louisville Courier Journal

When the snow is flying and the ground is rock hard, it’s easy to think spring is a lifetime away. Looking out my office window, it seems entirely implausible that those frozen, shivering beech tree buds, shrouded in the grays and browns of winter, will ever yield lush and delicate green leaves.

This is when a greenhouse is better than a whole muck bucket full of antidepressants.

I’m often asked when, as a gardener, I consider spring to start; not the date of the vernal equinox or the rising of Persephone from the underworld, but when a gardener feels like its spring. My answer has always been, “when I sow the first seed in the greenhouse.”

Think about it — why does spring lift our spirits? Sure, the snows melt and the weather warms. That helps a whole lot. But it’s more about looking out the window and seeing signs of “life” — the sight of swelling buds, emerging bulbs and the scents of the season. It is a high-impact sensory attitude adjustment event.

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Walk into a greenhouse in the depths of winter and the first thing you notice is the smell. Call it Mother Earth, call it Gaia’s perfume, call it anything you want. But I would expect that on walking into a warm and damp winter greenhouse there is a measurable drop in one’s blood pressure, a reduction in free-floating anxiety and a general sigh of seasonal relief. If that’s not a sign of true spring I don’t know what is.

Greenhouses come in a wide range of styles and sizes. Any number of hobbyist greenhouses can be purchased from mail order companies and erected in the backyard. They are generally small and intended more as season extenders than true year-round growing facilities. Heating these structures through the last three weeks would cost you the equivalent of your family’s total vacation and Christmas Club investments for the year. They are meant to allow you to start your tender seeds in early March rather than early January.

The next step up involves a little more ambitious (and more costly!) investment to provide year-round growing space that will not put you in the poor house — or at least not right away. But whether the season extender or the year-round starter house, they are generally free standing. Plunking a greenhouse onto the south side of your home might sound like a good idea but it’s not as great a marriage as you might think.

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The constant humidity and free-standing water of a greenhouse don’t mix very well with the modern concept of a residential space. And you can just imagine trying to keep such a house cool in the summer when the sun is streaming through the south-facing glass and cooking the whole house. Better have an up-sized AC unit!

Yew Dell’s greenhouse is a commercial structure that nobody but the craziest of us would consider building at home. Measuring in at a modest 1,850 square feet, it is built of extruded aluminum, single pane glass and concrete block. It is heated and powered by a solar/geothermal system that ends up requiring about 10 percent of the typical energy cost for a traditionally designed greenhouse.

Last Monday, a group of adult and kid volunteers spent the morning in Yew Dell’s greenhouse dividing aloe plants, potting up tropical cacti and generally soaking in all the greenhouse could deliver. We’ll have Monday volunteers all winter long doing more of the same. They all come to be supportive but leave each volunteer session with a little more spring in their step than when they arrived.

For the winter-weary gardener who wants to kick it up to the next level, take a drive about five hours west on Interstate 64 for a visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden. The MOBOT Climatron occupies 24,000 square feet and is the first conservatory in the United States built as a geodesic dome. Inside, year round you’ll find spectacular collections of tropical palms, orchids and a whole lot of things that look like overgrown houseplants. Honestly, you don’t even have to like plants to be overwhelmed by the place.

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But be it a hobby greenhouse, a potting up party at Yew Dell or a MOBOT excursion, all it takes is one step through the door for that winter attitude to start changing.

Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road,

Gardening for your Health event coming to BRF

Melinda Myers, gardening expert, author and TV/radio host, is coming to Black River Falls.

Through a partnership with the Karner Blue Garden Club and Black River Memorial Hospital, Myers will present two sessions Thursday, March 8, at Black River Falls Middle School on topics Vegetable Gardening Success and Simple Landscape Makeovers.

Events will start with a book signing at 5 p.m., followed by the first presentation at 6 p.m.

Myers is a down-to-earth presenter. Attendees will leave with more confidence in their gardening abilities and tips for healthy gardening.

Dr. Carol Martin, BRMH emergency department physician and Garden Club president said, “This event is for the first-time gardener and the experienced gardener. Gardening not only allows people to grow their own healthy produce to feed their families, it also feeds the soul.”

There will also be booths on gardening and health-related topics. This event is free and there will be door prizes and light refreshments. Register at or call 715-284-3629.

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Hampton School District hosting Lifetime Learning Academy – Tribune

Updated 4 hours ago

Lifetime Learning Academy is a new community education program offered through the Hampton Township School District, with classes set to begin next month.

The program, which will be held February through April, will feature courses in areas of arts and crafts, digital technology, gardening and home improvement, health and wellness, and academic enrichment courses, all taught by HTSD staff and local experts, according to Dr. Rebecca Cunningham, assistant superintendent with the district.

The Lifetime Learning Academy “captures the ongoing excitement about learning new things that are enjoyable and informative, and which can enrich the quality of life for our community members,” said Cunningham.

Last year, the district piloted a community education program by partnering with the local Baierl Family YMCA. This year it is being handled within the district as it will help “streamline” the process.

“We were very appreciative of their willingness to partner with us and to share their expertise in putting a program together,” said Cunningham.

The current program has a guiding committee which includes HTSD, Hampton Township Community Center staff, and the Hampton Community Library in order to offer a balanced set of courses, said Cunningham.

Residents and nonresidents can register on the school district website or mail in a form, she said.

Mary Alice Hennessey, a school board member who worked on the pilot programming last year, said she is every excited about this new academy, especially with many of the courses being taught by district staff and local experts. She said the instructors are looking forward to sharing their expertise and personal interests.

And it’s a chance for residents who do not get opportunities to interact with district staff to see the wealth of knowledge here, she said.

The classes will be taught at one of the Hampton schools during the evenings, whether one night or several. And classes are at direct-cost, which covers the cost of the instructor and materials needed, except if noted otherwise, said Cunningham.

Specific examples include courses in the area of arts and crafts, including “Beginning Knitting,” “Painting,” and Pet Portraits.” Courses in digital technology include “Microsoft Excel,” “Advanced Google Searching,” and “iPad 101.”

Gardening and home improvement courses include “Gardening Tips 101;” and “Residential Renovation Design.” Academic enrichment courses will feature “Civil War,” “Introduction to Poetry Writing,” and “Film Studies.”

For those wanting to learn more covering health and wellness, they can take “CPR for Laypersons,” “Health-Smart Eating” and “iRest Inspired Meditation.”

Maggi Aebi is the instructor for iRest Inspired Mediation, who said the course helps de-stress and is a method of deep relaxation.

“There’s a lot of stress to be an American. I think anxiety is at an all-time high,” said Aebi.

She focuses on teaching to anyone with everyday stress of varying causes, whether health-related or not, with a special focus on military veteran stress. Her son, SSgt Edward F. Greiner Jr., was killed in an accident outside of Ft. Bragg, N.C., where he was stationed and awaiting re-deployment to Afghanistan. So she said it’s a way to honor him.

She said iRest and yoga and meditation also greatly helped her when she was suffering from a tumor and meningitis, which affected her physically.

“Yoga has helped me to come back to a place of normalcy,” she said.

A few free courses being offered are “Social Media 101” and “Digital Etiquette” which do require an RSVP so they know how many people for which to prepare.

Cunningham said they are open to local experts proposing a class. If so, they can contact Nancy Schindler at or call 412-492-6319 for a course proposal form, which will then be reviewed by the guiding committee when developing the fall 2018 courses.

More information and registration can be found through the district website at under community tab.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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Simple tips to make gardening easier on the body

Gardening can be calming and therapeutic, but can also bring you a world of pain, as well as some frustration, if you’re not careful.

Moving heavy pots and the constant bending can quickly cause older gardeners’ legs, arms, back and joints to ache, while fiddly little bits can get trickier to see without pulling out the reading glasses. But instead of throwing in the trowel, try these tips to make gardening easier.

Make your non-stick shovel

Making your shovel non-stick will ensure that soil will slip right off your shovel once you remove it from the earth, avoid soil spillages that you may need to sweep up later. Just spray your shovel with a silicone or Teflon lubricant, though, to make shovelling a breeze. 

Lighten heavy pots

Avoid the strain of lifting and moving heavy pots by filling the bottom third with packing peanuts – those styrofoam pieces you can buy from any storage store. Simply level out the peanuts in the pot, add a layer of fabric over the top and then layer on the potting soil, ensuring that there’s sufficient depth of soil to accommodate the type of plant you’re potting.

This trick works best with the really big pots that are mainly for decorative purposes, not because the plant necessarily needs all of the soil the pot would usually hold. If you would like to reduce weight further, choose a potting mix filled with vermiculite and peat moss.

Transport plants with ease

Going to the nursery can be a lot of fun, especially when you are purchasing a bunch of new plants, but getting all those plants home without them falling over and spilling topsoil in your car can be a mission.

Next time you go to the nursery, however, line the back of your car with a plastic tarp and place a small step ladder on top. The spaces between the ladder rungs are perfect for keeping your plants upright and in place, as well as being great for ensuring fragile plants remain undamaged.

They are perfect for protecting fragile plants as you drive home, as well as saving you cleaning up any mess.

Make an easy-to-read rain gauge

If you find the measurements printed on your rain gauge hard to read or the glass or plastic has become cloudy, obscuring the water level, there is a simple solution. Add a few drops of food colouring to the bottom of your rain gauge. During your next rain shower, the water will combine with the dye, making the change in water level far more obvious.

Stop aggressive plants

There are a number of plants that look amazing but are just too invasive to deal with. Mint is delicious but it spreads like wildfire and can often take over if not regularly checked, creating extra. But you can prevent invasive species from spreading by planting them in a plastic container. Once planted bury the pot just below the surface of your soil. Make sure your plastic container has no holes or openings.

This will ensure that the plant’s roots don’t grow too quickly and disrupt other plants. If the plant sends out runners, this will have to be dealt with in the old-fashioned way – by chopping them off!

Protect plant bulbs

One of the worst things gardeners face is ruined plants because of root and bulb damage. There are a number of pests that love nothing more than munching on your plant bulbs; digging them up and having a feast. Not only does this ruin all the hard work put into growing the plants, it means we have to clean up our garden and replant. Instead, combat this problem by staking netting over the flowerbed. In the spring, remove the netting or cut a few holes for the plants to grow through.

Update your wheelbarrow

By fitting a piece of plywood to the back end of your wheelbarrow, you can use it for transporting both soil and pots. To do this simply fasten the medium piece of plywood with some wood cleats on either side. Now you will have a small surface that is perfect for potting straight out of the wheelbarrow. You can wheel your soil and plants to the garden when you’re finished in one quick trip.  

What do you think about these tips? Are they useful? What are your g0-to gardening trick?

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This week’s gardening tips: plant foxgloves, delphinium and hollyhock

The blooms will return: Cool-season bedding plants may bloom less during the midwinter period (especially if the weather is cold), but should pick-up again in the late winter and early spring. Don’t forget to keep the old, spent flowers picked off to encourage continued blooming. If the foliage color is a good deep green, and the plants seem to be growing well, you shouldn’t need to fertilize now. Pansies are, however, heavy feeders. If the foliage is even slightly pale, and if the growth seems slow, fertilize regularly with a soluble fertilizer according to label directions.

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Garden Calendar – Bryan


Meeting of the AM Garden Club, 9:30 a.m. College Station Waste Water Treatment Plant, 2200 N. Forest Parkway. AMGC member Heather White will offer a presentation on “Growing Fresh Air: How Plants Remove Toxins and Treat Sick Building Syndrome.” Business meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. and the presentation at 10:30 a.m. Visitors welcome. 


Brazos Valley Farmers’ Market, 8 a.m. to noon. Downtown Bryan at Main and 22nd Streets. Enjoy the food truck, shop for seasonal veggies, homemade baked goods and much more., or 229-5503. 

Brenham Farmers Market: 8 a.m. to noon. 307 S. Park St., Brenham.

Martha’s Bloomers, 11 a.m. 8101 Texas 6, Navasota. Program: “Spring Garden Tips,” presented by Elmer Kreibel, Brazos County Master Gardener and Eagle garden columnist. Learn gardening tricks and tips to get your garden ready for spring.


TAMU Women’s Club Garden Interest Group, 9:30 a.m. Education Classroom, George Bush Presidential Museum, 1000 George Bush Drive. Program: “How to Integrate Edibles into Your Landscape,” presented by Jeremy Merrill, Landscape Architect. Learn how to incorporate vegetables and herbs in your landscape. Free. Visitors welcome.

The Local at Lake Walk – a neighborhood artisan market, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. 4100 Lake Atlas Drive, Bryan. Enjoy food trucks, music, handmade products and fresh produce.


Garden Success radio show with Skip Richter, County Extension Agent- Horticulture, Texas AM AgriLife Extension Service, noon to 1 p.m. Listen to Richter’s advice on gardening in the Brazos Valley on KAMU-FM 90.9. Call in garden questions at (979) 845-568.

The Garden Calendar is a public service provided by The Eagle and The Brazos County Master Gardeners Association. To have your gardening event listed in The Eagle, contact Ginny Smith at or 846-0997. The deadline for submitting is the Friday one week before publication.

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A garden season begins with a seed

The gardening world has awoken. For a few weeks from late fall until the end of the year, it does go quiet, but now with seed catalogues on the move and seminars planned, there’s much to keep eager gardeners busy. Even though it may feel like spring is long way off, they’re ordering seed, shopping for grow lights, and drawing up plans for backyard makeovers.

I’d say there’s as much excitement brewing in the middle of January as there is in the middle of summer. Gardens are doing their own thing by then without much help from the gardener. At that stage we have the great satisfaction of seeing the garden flourish, yet sadly there are occasional concerns, even worries. We worry about the weather, rogue rabbits (any rabbits), blight on tomatoes, rampant weeds, and ever-increasing water bills. Right now, those concerns are forgotten because our heads are currently full of dreams, ideas and lots of enthusiasm, all supplemented by the need to forget it’s a record-setting winter for cold — the other day I heard a fire hydrant whistling for a dog.

This is also the time of year to get together with fellow enthusiasts and forget about the weather for a while. As for dreams, Jan. 21 is the date for Galt Horticultural Society’s annual Dream Garden Conference and it usually sells out. For last-minute tickets, contact Lynne Goulet-Smith at 519-841-3325 or lynne@galthort. If you miss it, Drumbo Agricultural Society’s “Come Bloom with Us” takes place on Sunday, Feb. 4; information at

Meanwhile, if growing seedlings under lights indoors is a new venture for you, here are a few tips.

For seedlings, all you really need for an economical setup is a basic twin tube T8 fluorescent shop light and a timer. There’s no need for special grow lights for seedlings. The pricier options like T5 high output fluorescents are more suited to growing exotic plants or food crops.

LED are more common now and are also fine for seedlings. They’re available in the form of a shop light and they use much less hydro, although they’re usually more expensive to buy. Whatever the type of light source you choose it will need to be suspended about 150 mm above seedlings and timed to be on for 14 hours a day.

It’s still far too early to start most seeds, even if you’re raring to go. Start too early and you’ll run out of space with all the problems of overcrowding. It does depend, however, on what you choose to grow as the germination time for distinct species varies considerably. The seeds of some plants need special treatment — a spell in a freezer (stratification), soaking, or scarification — the scratching or scraping done to weaken a tough seed husk.

Some seeds can take weeks or months before germination takes place and others won’t sprout at all unless they’ve passed through the digestive system of wandering Yak in Outer Mongolia, so to avoid disappointment, determine the individual needs of each well before planting. Fortunately, basic information is usually on the seed packet. If the seeds are from a non-commercial source or a seed swap, more research may be required.

For rare, exotic or unusual seeds, an excellent online resource is Cyndi’s Catalogue of Garden Catalogues at

As we shiver our way through winter, there are more gardening events upcoming — seminars, conferences, shows, including Garden Kitchener’s Seedy Saturday at Kitchener Public Library on Feb. 24 and Stratford Garden Festival, March 1 to 4. More are posted on the Facebook page of Grand Gardeners. If that isn’t enough to keep you busy in the “off” season, check out your local garden club. There’s one in every community. Find yours at

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IN THE GARDEN: Gardening resolutions for the new year

Happy New Year 2018!

Gardeners have more opportunities to make their resolutions come true because we are always trying to make our gardens better; when we plan, peruse seed catalogs or put the garden to bed in the fall, we are always resolving to do something. This year, consider these ideas for YOUR garden resolution list: Compost. Consider starting a compost area, or if you already compost, add more things.

Add a new plant. Find a local nursery resource. Discover new plants such as heirlooms and plant one.

Learn something new. Attend a class, read a gardening book or visit a gardening website such as our Oneida County Cornell Cooperative Extension at Consider becoming a master gardener volunteer. Visit our website for more information.

Attract one new butterfly. The best way to attract butterflies to the garden is to provide the plants they like best. This includes plants used by their caterpillars, called “host plants.” Each type of butterfly has its own host plant. Do a little research and see what works best in our area. Visit the Butterflies and Moths of North America’s website at for more information.

Serve one item that you grew yourself. Grow edibles; you do not need a big space. Consider one container for an edible plant, take pride in even the smallest harvest and share with others.

For the beginner, grow an herb and use it in your favorite recipe.

Add a new houseplant. This will give you a garden fix now and will get you ready for the 2018 gardening year!

Rosanne Loparco is a master gardener volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County. Look for more gardening tips in the Times Telegram or online at

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