Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
January, 2001
Regional Report

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My daughter's Girl Scout troop gets sticky making peanut butter pinecones to feed the birds.

Winter's Cold

Everybody complains about the weather, so I guess it's my turn. A few years ago it was El Nino, then La Nina - this year it's been La Freezer (my term). My son and I popped down to New Orleans for the day recently to try out for the game show "Jeopardy" - yes, I passed their tough test and may be a contestant. Watch for me! At lunch we met a couple of snowbirds from Michigan in town for their annual visit. "What happened?" asked the husband, shivering in his shorts and t-shirt. "We've never been cold here before."

Real Snowbirds

Even the birds that winter here have felt the pinch. Usually my nandinas and mahonias have berries well into February, saved as a last treat by the hungry horde. But both are nearly stripped. Birds are hungry, and I need to supplement their native diet with extra seed and feeders.

My daughter's Girl Scout troop helped by buying seed for existing feeders and by turning pinecones into peanut butter delights coated with seed and nuts. Any age group enjoys this project: Just wrap jute around the cone to make a hanger, then paint the cone with peanut butter or oil and roll it in mixed bird seed and any cracked nuts. Hang near other feeders or among berried shrubs.

Real Winter Weather

The weather pattern this winter is actually more "normal," according to the meteorologists. It has been warm, then rain, then cold, about every 4-6 days. Luckily, most established plants can roll with the punches, but newly planted ones are more vulnerable.

Protecting Plants

Steps can be taken to protect plants from possible weather-related damage. I like to check the mulch around shrubs and trees. It's fine to put on a layer of pinestraw or raked leaves, but make sure the material isn't packed so deeply by previous storms that water runs off the top, leaving the soil dry. Use your rake to loosen the mulch just a bit to let rains get in to the soil below.

Rejuvenating Plants

The good news is that we have the chance to rejuvenate many perennials this year because they have at last gone dormant. Lantana, butterfly bushes, and many scraggly salvias need to be cut back to near ground level. Pull the mulch away from the crown and get close enough to smell the soil. If it smells funky and sour, the crown's staying too wet and could be damaged. Get the wet mulch away and replace it with fresh pinestraw.

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