Teen Angst

Have you seen all the retractions and apologies from the meteorologists who predicted a warm winter with little snow a few months ago? Yeah, funny thing, me neither. I love my old house, but when it dips into the teens my boiler has to work overtime just to keep the house in the mid 60’s. I don’t mind the cold, but when I find myself contemplating whether I should dip my tea bag or my toes into a cup of hot water, it’s time for Spring. 
The girls in my chicken coop seem to handle the cold pretty well, but keeping their water from freezing can be a challenge. Wild birds have the same problem, so they appreciate access to water when the temperature drops. Most bird baths are shallow and freeze solid, so if you can put out a deeper container it increases the odds that our feathered friends can take a drink. I have a small fish pond that is a congregation spot on cold days, but it will eventually freeze over too. One trick is to put a few ping pong balls on the surface, and as the wind moves them around it breaks the surface tension and slows down the freezing time. Another is to fill some empty water bottles with salt water and float them on the surface. Except for really cold stretches their movement will keep the water liquid near their edges.
Your bushes and trees can use some help this time of year, particularly after a heavy snow or ice storm. Particularly vulnerable plants are evergreens like sky pencils, boxwoods, arborvitaes, hollies, and Leyland cypresses. Best advice: if there is heavy snow, take the time to go out every few hours and gently brush it off with a broom. Doing it after the snow stops increases the chance that already stressed branches will break. As a preventative measure, you can wind some twine around your sky pencils and leave them tied up until Spring. 
If they do get bent out of shape, start by intertwining the lateral branches back into the upright branches or tie them back in place. Boxwoods, hollies, and small arborvitaes like to be wrapped in burlap for the winter, which prevents breakage and keeps them from drying from the cold and low humidity. Unwrap them in mid-March before the growing season starts. 
As for Leland cypresses, this advice is more of a cautionary tale for next winter. Over the decades there is always one plant that was every landscaper’s darling for about ten years, then whoopsie-crap, it matures and the problems start. In the 1970’s it was the white pine, used extensively as a screening plant until it was noticed that the older trees dropped their lower branches and poof! went to the screening. In the 80’s it was the Bradford pear. Great shape, lovely blooms, wonderful foliage until they matured, and snow, ice, or a good wind storm would break off such huge chunks of the trees that no amount of pruning could save them. Enter the enchanting Mr. Leland. So tall, so fast-growing, and reasonably priced. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and when they are at their prime height they are prone to disease and tend to uproot in snow storms or high wind. At that point, they are difficult to revive and very expensive to replace. If you have a tall Leland in your yard, use the replacement cost as a motivator to get out of the warm house and clear its branches in the next good snowstorm.  A good replacement is the Green Giant arborvitae which grows quickly, keeps a nice conical shape, and behaves itself as it ages.

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