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Prepare Plants and Trees for the Freeze

It was fun while it lasted but the record high temperatures of recent weeks are gone, replaced by icy blasts from Ole Man Winter. Cold temperatures take their toll on plants. This winter take some basic steps and precautions to ensure the proper care of your lawn and garden, as recently suggested by Charles Fenyvesi in The Washington Post.

First and foremost, don't run amuck with rock salt when treating frozen driveways or walkways. Shrubs, grass and other plants will wither under the onslaught as the ice melts into a salty solution and drains off the edges of the concrete. You're better off going with a non-salted melting product. Or better yet, try spreading the wood ashes from the fireplace for a plant-friendly solution. You'll get similar results plus your plants will actually benefit from the potassium, phosphorous and calcium. It's a good way to recycle the nutrients contained in the burned remains of the wood. The exception is acid-loving plants such as azaleas or rhododendrons--wood ashes are extremely alkaline and inappropriate for these plants. Save the ashes for the spring if you're lucky enough not to need them for de-icing purposes. But make sure they are cold before storing them away, especially in plastic containers. Otherwise you'll experience a melt-down.

And for you grill cooks who think you're doing your plants a favor by spreading barbecue briquette ashes around, think again. They contain too many chemicals and byproducts for certain sensitive plants.

While you're outside chipping away with your shovel, stop to consider how the ice got there in the first place. Drainage could be a problem. After the spring thaw, make a point of regrading the ground under your walkway. Without a crown or slight ridge along the center, moisture tends to collect and freeze instead of draining away. Regrade the path or remove and reset the flagstones or brick.

When the holiday is over, don't toss the Christmas tree onto the curb. Recycle it as mulch for your perennials. You can actually use entire boughs to cover the beds or protect the base of your plants. Nothing provides better protection from the elements. Toss the boughs onto the compost pile in the spring. To speed up the decomposition process, cut them up and mix them with other garden waste.

One last warning for the lawn: Keep off the grass. Once frozen, the blades and crowns become brittle and fragile. Tromping around the lawn will damage the grass plants and make them susceptible to disease.