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Lawn care in winter

Friday - 2/4/2011, 12:09pm  ET

Lawn Care Over Winter

Donna in Dale City writes, "I seeded some bare spots in my lawn back in the fall, and had a nice stand of new grass come up. What can I put on it to protect it during the winter?"

Absolutely nothing, Donna. Although frigidly cold weather without any snow cover (like we experienced at the beginning of this wretched winter) can stress lawns new and old, there's really no way we humans can mimic the insulating protection of snow.

Make sure no rock salt is used anywhere near the new grass. Try even to limit the use of plant-safer products, such as calcium and magnesium chloride near the lawn. Try using some sand in those spots if you need to gain some traction.

DO shovel any clean snow that's free of de-icers onto the lawn.

Otherwise, just follow the famous advice of Baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby concerning the off-season. "They ask me what I do in the winter. I'll tell you what I do in the winter: I look out the window and dream of spring".

Best Buys on Ice-Melt

Paula in Silver Spring is looking for a way to spend less dough on non-rock salt ice-melt products. She writes: "You said on your Friday morning Yard Warrior segment that you bought big shaker jugs of calcium chloride for $7! Where? I just paid $20 for one jug at a hardware store. I think I could have gone on a nice vacation with the money I've already spent on ice melt this winter!"

Well, Paula, I priced Calcium Chloride de-icer at hardware stores large and small, home centers and supermarkets-and the seven dollar shaker jugs (made by Morton Salt, of all companies) were found at my local supermarket. (I hate to put the boot in, but several of the jugs also add 'dollar off' coupons attached-at least it wasn't double coupon week.)

So shop around. When you see a good price, buy in bulk. Unlike the versions in big plastic bags, de-icers in those heavy plastic shaker jugs are very stable; keep the containers in a cool dry place and any left-overs should be good next year. (I carried a full jug over from last winter to this one.)

Re-Blooming? Ha! He'd like his Azaleas to Bloom ONCE

Bob in Mt. Airy writes, "I filled my yard with Encore azaleas a couple of years ago and have barely seen a blossom from any of the shrubs -- spring or fall. Is there any regular pruning or feeding I should be doing to encourage blooms? They have not been fed upon the advice of our nursery."

Ah yes, the famous double-blooming azaleas. In my experience, people are generally disappointed with any fall flowers that do appear on these types, Bob -- and that makes sense. Azaleas are basically spring-blooming plants.

Ah, but all azaleas need the same thing: A naturally rich acidic soil. So there's much hope for your un-fed flowers. As soon as the world thaws, remove any nasty wood mulch, spread an inch of milled peat moss at their base (to acidify the soil), cover that with an inch of yard-waste compost (to enrich the soil), and they should perk up.

Then only prune them immediately after bloom, and only to remove any faded flowers. Otherwise, you risk pruning away potential blooms.

Amaryllis, Arise Again

Pat in Upper Marlboro writes, "Can Amaryllis be made to bloom again? If so, may I have some instructions?"

Ah, those great big bulbs with the giant flowers. Yes it can, and of course you may, Pat.

Remove any faded flowers, but leave the stalk in place. Allow the new leaves to grow, giving the plant as much sun as you can manage. (This period is when new flowers are formed, deep inside the bulb.) Feed it with a gentle organic fertilizer once a month while the leaves are green and growing and water it, but with a light hand.

It can go outdoors when the weather warms in May or just stay indoors; your choice. When the leaves start to fade or August arrives (whichever comes first), stop feeding, stop watering and put either the bare bulb or the entire pot in a dark basement for six weeks or so.

Then, if you took it out of its pot, repot it in fresh potting soil, being careful to only bury half of the bulb portion at most. Then bring it back into a sunny window indoors and water it really well but only once. With any luck, a new flower stalk will emerge. When it does, begin a very light watering schedule (no food) and a new cluster of flowers just might form at the top around the holidays.

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