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Tending to a winter garden

01/23/03 12:00AM By Ron Krupp
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(Host) Commentator Ron Krupp shares his thoughts on winter gardening.

(Krupp) As winter continues her long journey, the earth freezes even deeper. Snow falling lightly on the earth soothes the most rushed of souls. Even though the sunlight begins to lengthen ever so gradually after the winter solstice, the outer mood of the season still reflects a hiddeness as the sun sits low in the horizon. The creatures seem to have vanished, yet even on the coldest days the woods and fields are full of life if you know where to look.

To my mind, the mid-winter garden isn't confined to the compost pile or cold-frame. As we ponder our gardens of seasons past and plan for the future, we spend lots of winter time looking at the dormant landscape, with its solitary brown stalks and twigs, naked shrubs and trees, and withered yellowed grasses. If you add in a touch of red berries and birds hovering around the feeders, you may find like me that the winterscape, though still and hushed, is more than just bearable. A well kept lawn has little to offer when covered in snow, but a weedy pasture has lots to see sticking up above the snow line, like tufted grasses, stalks, and seed clusters in many shapes, heights, textures and colors

Many intriguing shrubs can add lots of interest to your winter landscape have with their unusual branch structures and color. The showiest plants for this purpose are those with bright red, yellow or orange bark. And few plants have more colorful winter bark than red-stemmed dogwood, a large shrub growing 6-8 feet tall if left unpruned, with a wide range in the U.S. and Canada. Yellow stemmed dogwood can also add a bright highlight to the winter landscape.

All of the shrub dogwoods are easy to grow in full sun or partial shade and wet to moderately dry soils. The brightest colors appear on year-old stems, so regular pruning is needed to keep the plants colorful. The key is to prune out the old stems in spring to encourage new stems to grow from the base. Over-grown shrub dogwoods can be renewed by pruning all the stems down to within a few inches of the base.

And by the way, coral-bark willow rivals the dogwoods for winter color with its golden stems and red-orange twigs. Because this willow can grow to a large tree, it's best to cut the plant nearly to the ground each year in early spring. Willows prefer full sun and moist soil.

Perhaps because sunrise and sunset are closer together these days, the winter sky seems more luminous. Just before daylight ends, the sun sends rays of red and yellow into my home and I feel warmed as the temperature dips below zero. This is Ron Krupp, the northern gardener.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.

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