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Winter days a good time to plan your landscape

SALISBURY — During the holiday season, many people have a few days to relax and enjoy the holidays. Some will take time and evaluate their lawns and landscapes to determine a course of action for next season. Below are some things for you to consider for your lawn and landscapes for 2014.
Evaluate your lawn — The mowers have been put away for the winter, but it’s important to determine why some areas of the lawn just aren’t doing as well as they should. The No. 1 problem in many lawns is poor fertilization practices. It’s important to periodically monitor your soil’s fertility.
Soils should be tested every two to three years. This is a service, provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, which allows you to fine tune your fertilization efforts.
Correct fertilization keeps plants healthy and beneficial to our environment. The Department of Agriculture has implemented a state law that now requires a $4 charge per sample during the peak months from December through March. Soil testing is free for the other months of the year.
Go to http://ncagr.gov/agronomi/sthome.htm for more detailed information about soil testing.
Hardscaping your landscape — Spring is an excellent time to install the brick sidewalk, dry-stacked rock wall, and the increasingly important drip irrigation system. These are lightweight projects even the novice can do. Much information is available online and there are books galore at retail outlets.
Compost leaves — Composting fallen leaves provides organic mulch that provides nutrients and helps hold water around plants. It’s a little more work, but the enriched nutrients for vegetable gardens and other plantings will be worth the effort.
Tree removal — Winter and early spring are excellent times to evaluate your options and remove dead, dying or even unwanted trees.
Some trees, no matter how much shade they give us, cause problems. Sweet gum trees in the woods or field are wonderful trees for wildlife. However, in a manicured lawn, the constant shedding of the spiney balls can be a royal headache.
Mulch — Fall and winter are a great time to apply mulch. Organic mulch protects from freezing weather, conserves moisture and helps control weeds. Pine needles and bark or composted materials do not attract termites; however, mulch with green wood will attract termites.
Judicious pruning — Light, judicious pruning does not kill plants, but spring flowering shrubs will not bloom if pruned back now before they bloom. It’s best to prune spring flower trees and shrubs immediately after they bloom.
Low lying tree limbs can be removed now to give easy access to mowers, etc. Severely pruning hedges should be done in late March.

Darrell Blackwelder is director of Rowan Cooperative Extension. Contact him at 704-216-8970.

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