Winter Watering by Janet Laminack

“Should I be watering my lawn and shrubs this time of the year? It is extremely dry but has also been very cold and below freezing temperatures.”

water-sprinkler

You should definately water during the winter

This is a question I recently received from a local resident. It’s a great question and I have some answers for anyone else who may also be wondering that very same thing.

Yes, watering shrubs and perennials, especially before we have freezing temperatures, is recommended. Watering helps insulate the plants and can help them survive unusually low temperatures better. This is especially beneficial if you have perennials that are a little tender for our area or when temepratures drop below our normal temperature range. I also like to recommend watering evergreen shrubs and trees in the winter. Since they still have their leaves on they have more desiccation in the winter than deciduous plants. When we get warm, windy days, the soil is likely to dry out and plants with leaves could be losing moisture. Shrubs and trees without leaves may not need water as much. They aren’t moving water through their system, but their roots are alive and could be damaged if they dry out too much. And you are more likely to get freeze damage with roots in dry soil rather than roots in a well-watered soil.

 

antique-rose-emporium

Evergreen shrubs lose water even in the cold months

When thinking about watering your lawn, think about watering St Augustine like a tender plant with evergreen leaves. St Augustine does not like the cold weather.  Bermuda grass is much more cold tolerant and goes very dormant in our winter. It does alright with supplemental irrigation when we’ve been very dry for a long time.

Watering before a freeze will protect the roots of trees, shrubs and lawns

Watering before a freeze will protect the roots of trees, shrubs and lawns

The last thing to know about watering is not to do it during freezing temperatures. Turn off your automatic sprinkler system, icy landscapes are not our goal. Wait until we get a warm up and then give everything a good soak. You won’t need to water as frequently during the cold season, but about once a month, when we are dry will be very beneficial.

planting-asparagus

It is time to think about planting asparagus, onions and potatoes in North Texas

It’s getting to be time to start planting onions, asparagus and potatoes! Check out our vegetable gardening information under North Texas Gardening at www.dcmga.com. While you are there, you can find out about our upcoming classes and be put on our e-mailing list.   And as always, if you need more information or just have landscape or gardening questions contact us, at  940.349.2892, email master.gardener@dentoncounty.com, we are here to help.

Ellen Bosanquet and the CobraHead Hoe

Yesterday, while returning from lunch, I found what I believe to be an Ellen Bosanquet crinum bulb laying on top of the ground.  Now I am not certain it is an Ellen Bosanquet but it was laying in a place where a large clump of them had once stood. 

Ellen Bosanquet from SouthernBulb.com

I found this bulb while walking through a garden that I go through quite regularly.  While strolling through it, I discovered that a large bed had been dug up and all of the plant material had been removed.  While surveying this, I noticed the bulb.  It was laying on top of the soil and had just a few roots still in the ground.  I decided that it had been left there to die so I rescued it.

I love crinums and I have several varieties in my beds.  Since Ellen Bosanquet is one I do not have, I was very glad to find this bulb.  In my opinion, Ellen Bosanquet is one of the prettiest.  It rosey pink flowers and slightly rippled foliage makes it an attractive plant whether it is blooming or not.

What I hope is a healthy Ellen Bosanquet bulb

Since I didn’t know how long the bulb had been out of the soil, I planted it as quickly as possible.  This gave me the opportunity to try out a new garden gadget that my wife gave me for Christmas.  The CobraHead Hand Hoe is a marvelous little garden tool that is produced right here in the USA by a small family owned business.  My wife ordered it for me from another family owned business that we often shop with; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

  I am not a big buyer of garden gadgets.  However, when I saw the CobraHead in the Baker Creek magazine I knew it was something worth having.  The CobraHead is a 13″ long, curved weeder, cultivator, planter, etc.  It has a thin, curved, football shaped head that allows it to work in even the heaviest clays.  In my own garden, the tools I most often use are an old 12′ long Craftsman screwdriver and the claws of an old 20 ounce framing hammer.  The thin and gracefully curving shape of this tool, combined with the overall length and large handle made me realize that I could finally put my hammer and screwdriver back in the tool box.

After using it to plant my new crinum in a fairly heavy clay, I give the tool two big green thumbs up!  The tool performed just as advertised.  I was able to quickly dig a hole with out wearing myself out.  I was very pleased.  (I make this next statement in a very light hearted manner)  Thanks to my new CobraHead, I am actually looking forward to all of those weeds that will soon be popping up in my beds!

Merry Christmas Everyone, Happy Holidays You All!!!!

Well, Christmas has now officially past.  I hope you all had a good time.  According to the Mayans, this was the last time any of us will get to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour.  If this was to be out last Christmas together at least it was great!  For the first time in a long time all of our little chickens were at the nest for Christmas day.  This was the best Christmas gift that Sally and I could have recieved.  For three joyous days we cooked, ate and visited.  The nights were filled with libations, laughter and board games. 

Below are a few pics from our most joyous of celebrations:

 

Broccoli harvest that we shared with all of our neighbors

 

Chris, Sassy and Midas prepare the flank steak for Christmas Eve fajitas.

 

 

Red solo cup, we lift you up!

 

Jessie, Katie, Moose and Gran are ready for presents!

Sally set a lovely table and Whitney made a beautiful center piece

BTW, this year’s wine turned out awesomely!  We bought new bottles, a corking machine and had labels made.  Very pleased with the results!

This year’s celebration was almost Rockwellian.  Family gathered together enjoying each other’s company and taking time to be thankful for all that we have been blessed with.  Merry Christmas everyone.  I hope your celebrations were wonderful and I really hope the Mayans are wrong!

Christmas Wine

The finished product

This year, we started a new Christmas tradition at the yupneck’s house– bottling homemade wine.  Bottling our wine was the very exciting conclusion to a process that started six months ago.

Wild grapes mature around July 4th in our part of the country.  So, while other folks were celebrating our nation’s birthday with hot dogs and hamburgers, my wife and I were out picking five gallons of Mustang and Muscadine grapes.  Both of these grapes grow in abundance over the fences and fence rows of our county. 

Finished wine waiting to be bottled

The recipe we used is an old Czech and German recipe that has been used in our area for well over one hundred years.  This recipe was passed on to us by Marvin Marberger of Brenham.  Mr. Marberger has been making wine for more years than he cares to remember.  He is pretty famous around here for his wine and we were very lucky to have his help.  I promise to do full post on the actual “making wine” part in the summer.  For now, I am going to focus on the end result.

Our wine sat and fermented on our enclosed back porch for six months.  You know your wine is ready when there are no more bubbles going through the air lock.  Our wine stopped bubbling a couple of months ago.  We let it sit until Christmas just to make sure it was indeed ready.  You see, if you bottle before the fermentation process is complete, then fermentation in the bottle can force out corks or make the bottles explode.  That would be a bad thing, so that’s why we let it sit for so long.

The yupneck's lovely wife sterilizing the bottles

Christmas Eve night, with all of our family around to help, we brought in the wine.  Now bottling homemade wine sounds kind of romantic, but let me tell you, it is a lot of work!  First, you have to sterilize your bottles and corks.  My lovely wife did most of this job.  She would bring water to rapid boil on the stove and then use a funnel to fill the bottles.  Five gallons of wine will fill twenty five 750 ml bottles.  We used nine 1000 ml bottles and thirteen 750 ml bottles. 

Siphoning and filtering the wine

After everything was sterile, we started to bottle.  Bottling basically involves siphoning out the wine, filtering it, and then putting it in the bottles.  This was a slow process as we filtered it first into a tea pitcher and then we filtered it again as we filled the bottles.  All in all it took us a couple of hours just to fill the bottles.

Once the bottles were full, we corked them.  Our 1000 ml bottles had an attached hinged cork like a Grolsch beer bottle.  For the wine bottles, we reused old corks.  We boiled them to clean and soften them.  Then, we just pushed them in as far as they would go.  Once they were corked, they went on a shelf in an upright position to dry and seal for about a week.  Once the corks were dry, we laid them on their side in a cool dark cabinet.  This is the proper way store your wine.  The wine needs to be in contact with the cork.  This will keep the cork moist which helps in the seal.

Our daughter Jessie enjoying the "fruits" of our labor

Our wine turned out great!  While it will not get any awards, it is a very sweet and very drinkable table wine.  We gave away most of our first batch and everyone that received it has asked for more.  The process was really pretty simple and my wife and I enjoyed it immensely.  In fact, we liked it so much we are going to try and make other varieties (like watermelon, black berry or strawberry) in addition to the grape next year.  If you are lucky enough to live in area where you can get access to wild grapes, I highly recommend you try this at home.

Picket Fence Update

The back gate with the arbor in the background

All of the time off around the holidays provided me with a couple of opportunities to work on the picket fence.  My son-in-law Ramez helped me finish the arbor and build the back gate.  My son-in-law Jared helped me prime the back fence and gate.  Thanks to their efforts, I now have a pretty good idea of how good it is going to look once it is complete.  Now close your eyes and imagine it covered in running pink roses!

Picket Fence – Phase 2

Hanging the stringers

My wife and I made real progress on the picket fence this week end.  In fact, we were rather surprised at how much progress we made.  After a good breakfast and a few errands, we got busy.  Before we could really get going we had to “notch the posts” to hold the stringers.  For our fence design, we wanted the posts to show.  The posts would then have 2 1/2″ pickets with 2 1/2″ gaps that hang on stringers that are flush mounted in the back of the post.  After the top and bottom stringers were set, we trimmed the posts to their final height.  The post tops were cut to be 6″ taller than the top stringer. 

Next, we set up the cutting center.  This was basically a sheet of plywood on two saw horses.  I reinforced the plywood by placing three 4X4 posts under it and screwing them down.  Next, I set up a cutting jig for the posts.  This was done by screwing a piece of a 4X4 to the end of the plywood to serve as a stop for cutting the pickets.  I then moved my chop saw until the blade was the proper distance from the stop.  I then squared the saw and screwed it down to the plywood.  Once this was a secure, I set up my portable table saw behind the cutting jig.  I set the saw to rip pickets 2 1/2″ wide.

A good shot of how the sringers are set into the posts

Now that the stretchers were in place and the cutting center was ready, my wife and I set about making the pickets.  We did this by cutting 5/4″ boards that were 5 1/2 inches wide into 42″ long sections.  We then ran these sections through the the table saw to create two 2 1/2″ wide pickets from one 42″ section.  When the wheel barrow was full of pickets, we would go and hang them. 

Hanging pickets is pretty easy if you have the right tools.  In our case, the right tool was another jig.  Since we had hung our stringers perfectly level, we used them to hold the jig that I built for this purpose.  This jig was very simple.  I took a 4′ 2X4 and screwed a 4′ 1X4 at a 90 on the top and another 1X4 to the back that hung past the bottom edge of the 2X4.  This created a lip that I could use to screw the jig down to the stringer.  This jig ensured that all of the pickets would be perfectly level across the top. 

The yupneck at work hanging pickets

With the help of this jig, my wife and I set about hanging the pickets.  Working together, she would hold and space the picket (using another picket), and I would screw them down.  I used galvanized screws for this entire project so I do not have to worry about rusty screws staining my posts in the future.  As you can see from the pic, we made very good progress.  We got about two thirds of the front of the fence built in about four hours.  Now that we have the jigs and “a system” we expect to finish the rest of this side of the fence by the end of next weekend.  Check back to see how it goes.

Building the Picket Fence

The yupneck leveling a post for the picket fence

I started this blog as a way to share some of the things I am learning as I pursue my Master’s degree in Horticulture at Texas A&M (Whoop!) with my fellow gardeners.  What started out as fun is slowly turning into a new side line for me; garden writing.  So far, four of the articles that are contained on this site have been published.  This has been a very exciting and fun diversion for me.  Once I stated getting published, it kind of changed the way I look at just about everything I do in the garden and around the house.  Now, instead of just taking cuttings from my coleus like I always have, I have to stop whatever I am doing and go find a camera so I can document it for an article!

This post is a classic example.  I am in the process of building a picket fence around my house.  In my “pre-writer” days, I would have just built the fence, taken a picture or two to show my friends and family, and then moved on to my next project.  Not anymore.  Now, each project has to be “documented”.  So, this post will document the “beginnings” of the picket fence project.  All of this picture taking is driving my wife a little nuts but she is going along with it for now.

I don’t know if I have mentioned it or not, but my wife and I are remodeling an old farmhouse.  One of the projects that we planned to do was build a picket fence around the place.  This was pretty low on the priority list (way behind getting central heat and air, a new kitchen and a new bathroom) until two weeks ago. 

Who would throw this out?

Two weeks ago, the fence took on a whole new level of importance when we picked up a beautiful Australian Shepherd out of the middle of the road.  Someone had “dumped her” in our neck of the woods.  At first, we figure she was lost.  She was so pretty and wearing a collar.  Who would dump such a fine animal?  So, thinking she was lost, we took her in and set out to find her owner.  Well, no owner came forward and we slowly began to accept the fact that we had inherited a dog.  Now normal people that do not have the means to keep a dog would simply not keep her.  However, I am proud to say my wife and I are not normal.  Instead of taking her to the pound, we decided to build a fence!

As luck would have it, my neighbor had just taken down a lovely two board fence that ran across the front of his property.  Since the yupneck is too cheap to buy new, I bought the used 4X4 posts and the runners from him.  He also owns a bobcat set up as a post hole digger.  So, for a very few dollars, I got most of the materials for the fence and someone to save my back from the hours of manual post hole digging. 

My neighbor's post hole digging machine

Alan showed up at 7:15 last Sunday and drilled all of my post holes.  It took him 20 minutes to drill 17 holes.  It would have taken me 20 minutes to dig a single hole.  Over the past week, Sally and I have cleaned out the holes, filled the bottoms with brick bats and started cementing the posts in.  We finished this Sunday right after church.  If you notice in the pictures, we are still wearing our church clothes (like I said before, we are not completely normal)!

I am very excited that this project is under way.  I have wanted a picket fence for quite some time.  No, let me restate that.  I have NEEDED the fence for quite some.  You see, as this blog is supposed to highlight, I am a gardener.  Because of this, I have completely filled up all of the beds around my house.  This fence will allow me to create literally hundreds of more feet of beds!  Also, who has ever closed their eyes and envisioned an antique farmhouse in the country that didn’t have a picket fence?  No one, that’s who!  Old farmhouses are required to have picket fences covered in old roses (one of which we bought at the Antique Rose Emporium this weekend) and surrounded by beds full of things your grand mother grew.  That is what this fence will do for me.  It will complete the dream!

Setting posts in our church clothes

I hope to have the first section of fence completed by Thanksgiving.  My birthday is pretty close to Thanksgiving this year and I have asked all five kids to come celebrate by throwing me a painting party.  If all goes well, we will have the fence and the garage painted by the end of next weekend.  Check back to see how it goes.

P.S.  If you would like detailed instructions on how I build a picket fence, email me or leave a comment and I will post everything you need to know.