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Winter watering, gardening key in light of drought

DeKALB – Lawn sprinklers in December are not a ridiculous idea for Joel Barczak.

Barczak, co-owner of Blumen Gardens in Sycamore, said gardening does not and should not go into hibernation during winter months, because it provides an ideal time for maintenance and planning ahead for spring.

With the severe drought over the summer, Barczak said it is especially important this year to make sure shrubs and evergreens such as pine, spruce and boxwood trees have plenty of water before the ground freezes and makes it impossible for the trees and plants to absorb nutrients.

Although it is past the optimal time for watering evergreens, Barczak said the ground is still soft enough to water before the frost sets.

“It’s really critical on a yearly basis [for] you [to] pay special attention to evergreens,” he said. “Those evergreen-type plants lose water all winter and can be damaged over the winter, especially with high winds and sunny conditions.”

The late arrival of snow has also given gardeners an opportunity to apply a layer of mulch around those plants to help prevent the soil from freezing. Barczak said a two- to four-inch layer of mulch will help offset ground freezing up to four feet deep.

“It’s the best insurance you can give for the survival of evergreens,” he said.

For those who do not have evergreens, winter still provides opportunities to stay active in gardens. Dormant trees and shrubs such as crab apple and dogwood trees are much easier to prune and shape without leaves, Barczak said.

Winter also gives gardeners a chance to take a broader view of their landscaping outside of plants and flowers and focus on adding items such as heated birdbaths and stonework.

“Birds and wildlife [are] a nice addition to any garden,” Barczak said. “People want something nice all four seasons. Winter should not be a downtime for gardening. It should be an active season.”

Gardeners should also use the winter to plan next season’s layout, said Candice Miller, a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension in DeKalb County.

A key to any successful garden is crop rotation, she said, adding gardeners should use the winter to make sure they are not planning to plant seeds from the same plant family in the same area. Planting pumpkins one year and zucchini the next in the same area will increase the possibility of disease and insects, she said. Rotating that crop with tomato plants, for example, would decrease potential disease.

The winter also marks the beginning of master gardener classes at the University of Illinois Extension in DeKalb County. Starting Jan. 7, classes will meet every Monday at the DeKalb County Community Outreach Building.

Miller recommended the program for beginners or gardeners looking to learn more techniques and tips.

“In terms of training, it’s one of the best programs for anyone interested in getting started in gardening,” she said.

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