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Don't prune those roses now

Saturday - 2/15/2014, 8:48am  ET

Tree icicles are seen in the D.C. region. (Courtesy Mike McGrath)

Editor's note: Mike will speak at the Green Spring Gardens EcoSavvy Symposium at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb 22. On Sunday, he'll make appearances at the Capital Home & Garden Show at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.

Out of rock salt? Your plants thank you

Time to review the rules of proper ice melting. Hopefully, many of you were able to stockpile one of the alternative de-icers, such as calcium chloride, back when I suggested it in the fall, long before we found out what it's like to live through a winter in Wisconsin!

If you didn't, and can't find any kind of de-icer in the stores, use sand to make icy surfaces less slippery. Play sand, all-purpose sand and lava sand all make icy surfaces safe and do absolutely no harm to nearby lawns or landscape plants. In fact, sand is good for your soil.

Kitty litter also works well, but it's messy, so make sure to remove or clean your shoes before you walk on any nice surfaces inside.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to use rock salt. Local lawns are already getting too much of that non-nutrient from road crews.

Protect your lawn and landscape from road salt

Local road crews have had no choice this winter. They've had to spread record amounts of salt to try and keep area roadways as safe as possible. But that salt will take a toll on our plants, especially lawns and landscapes that "receive" salty snow as it's plowed off the road.

To minimize the damage come spring, don't shovel salted snow onto your lawn. But DO shovel clean snow onto your lawn especially onto areas of your lawn that you suspect have received road salt via plowing. The more you can dilute that saltiness, the less damage it will do.

Then, when spring finally arrives, use your garden hose to flush some of the salt out of planted areas that are right next to roadways.

Prune your maples and get free ice pops

Looking for something to smile about that actually involves icicles? Betty in Potomac just sent a great email - with photos of her story of an unexpected frozen delight.

She writes: "I have never seen anything like this! A maple tree at my church on River Road was pruned about three weeks ago, and then developed icicles where the branches were cut. I tasted one and it was noticeably sweet. Did the pruners prune too early? Is the sap running early? Is this normal?"

This is the perfect time to prune big trees, Betty. And maples always bleed lots of sap whenever they're pruned. So the tree will be just fine in the future, and you have now tasted a truly natural 100 percent maple-flavored ice pop!

It takes a lot of sap to make a little syrup

Betty's maple-flavored icicle story reminds me that we are fast approaching sugaring season - when intrepid outdoor people will "tap" their maple trees and gather the liquid that pours out when warm days follow cold nights.

But that slightly sweet sap is not yet syrup. It has to boiled down outdoors, unless you don't like your current wallpaper for a long time to become pancake worthy.

It can take upwards of 10 gallons of raw sap to produce a single quart of maple syrup, which is legally defined as having a sugar density of 66 percent. Now you know why nature's most perfect sweetener is expensive. It takes a lot of work to create the perfect topping for that warm and toasty waffle!

Prune roses AFTER new growth appears

Vince from the Men's Garden Club of Frederick writes: "Every year we have an issue about when to prune our roses. We are slated to prune this weekend, but I seem to remember you disagreeing with this timing in the past. Would you mind repeating your recommendations for rose pruning?"

Now the middle of winter is an ideal time to prune big trees, Vince. But not roses or other perennials. The best advice is to sit on your pruners until new growth appears on your roses this spring, wait two more weeks and then prune.

Right now, you want the maximum amount of plant material up high to collect insulating snow and protect the root system and crown of the plant. Pruning now would remove a lot of that protection and expose your plants to grave winter injury, as would pruning during an early warm spell that's followed by a hard freeze.

The healthiest roses are the ones that get a nice haircut a few weeks after they wake up.

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