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Blackwelder column: Time to mulch, prune, water

SALISBURY — The holidays are over and many people want to get outdoors and continue with their gardening chores. Below are a few gardening activities that may need attention.
Add mulch: Now is a great time to add mulch to your shrubs, perennials and trees to increase winter protection. Mulch helps prevent freeze and thaw problems that can kill plants, especially perennials. Mulch holds the ground to a more even temperature. Pine needles, pine bark and soil conditioners are readily available at local retail outlets.
Winter pruning: Cut back dead perennials to the ground and apply mulch. Now is the time to take out dead or damaged tree limbs as well as overgrown evergreen shrubs. Avoid severely pruning evergreen shrubs. Pruning ornamental grasses can also wait until late spring and enjoy the winter interest.
Keep your shrubs and containers watered: It can get dry in the winter. Keep newly planted trees and shrubs, as well as container plants, irrigated. Container plantings suffer both from temperature extremes and lack of water, especially with cold, windy weather.
Pecan leaves and hulls: Remove all the leaves and husks from underneath and around the tree and compost them far away from the trees. Burn fallen limbs or those damaged by insects such as twig girdler. Go to http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/ag81.html for more complete information on pecan production.
Poinsettias and houseplants: Many like to keep poinsettias during the winter and try their luck for next season. Care for the plant as you would any houseplant. Place it in a sunny location, water as needed, and apply a half strength fertilizer solution monthly. After the last frost, cut back the stems to 3 to 4 inches to promote new growth, repot and place it outdoors in a protected location. Go to http://www.ces. ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/pdf/hil-8508.pdf for more information.
Birds need help: Make sure that you keep your bird feeders well stocked with clean feed and ample water during the winter. Birds suffer greatly during frigid weather when water baths freeze. Consider a bird bath water heater. The portable heaters keep the water in baths or containers just above freezing, allowing ready access. Also consider planting shrubs bearing winter berries. Many birds such as bluebirds depend on berries for winter survival.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 Facebook or online at www.rowanextension.com

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