According to my gardening journal records, "The January Thaw" has ended and we now are into winter, albeit, milder than normal so far. That is good news for us, as fuel bills should be less and no deep snow or ice.

That is bad news for plants. They need cold to germinate, produce flowers and protect root systems. Many plants need a certain number of consistent days of freezing temperatures to break the aril (seed coating) allowing seeds to germinate. Plants also need a certain number of consistent freezing days before forcing flowers to bloom. Our warm weather forced the bush honeysuckle to bloom, and many blooms and buds are now frozen.

It may seem that frozen water in the soil would be detrimental to plants. Many have learned to adapt, according to Luke McCormack, tree root biologist, Morton Arboretum (25 miles west of Chicago), by producing more sugar that lowers the freezing temperature.

Often colder than soil temperature, cold air and winds are more dangerous to plants, as they desiccate the above-ground plant. Frozen surface level soil actually acts as a protective layer sealing in the soil's warmer temperature. As we have seen recently, snow can be disastrous, but a couple of inches creates a protective blanket and adds moisture to plants that continue to grow in the winter.

Plants have adapted to their environment by finding ways to protect themselves. We can help them survive the winter by adding 3-4 inches of mulch of straw, pine needles, cypress and lightweight evergreen branches to hold in moisture and heat and moderate the freeze-thaw cycle. Wrap new trees with paper tree wrap, gutter metal mesh or plastic screening to reduce wind and animal damage and decrease freeze-thaw. Water 1 inch weekly if we have received no rain.

Things to do

• 15-Minute Gardening -- Purchase or make a notebook or calendar to keep with your tool bag. Make notes of what is in bloom, to order, etc., and weather. Compare it with last year's notebook.

• Garden -- Protect plants that began to emerge due to unseasonably warm weather. Add a light layer of mulch and cut back annual stems from last year. For a jump start on annuals, order plants and their seeds to plant for successive bloom.

• Houseplant -- Succulents will drop leaves if soil is dry soil. Stick your finger into the soil to test its moisture. If dry to the depth of 1 inch, water. Let soil dry until cool to the touch or remove from the container and repot in succulent or well-drained medium. Or start a new plant by removing a healthy leaf, let it callus (crust over) and plant in succulent medium. Tropical palms like our warm (75-80 day temperature and 65-75 night) homes, but not the low humidity. Mist frequently, and wipe fronds with a damp cloth to reduce the possibility of mite infection.

• Lawn -- Feb. 2 is Groundhog Day. It is not the groundhog that creates runs in the yard, but still it can do damage. The mild rodent builds his home in tree hollows and under tree roots, in culverts and in crawl spaces. Use a no-kill cage to trap and remove from the yard.

• Trees and shrubs -- Cut bush honeysuckle branches that are in bloom or whose buds are fat and ready to force indoors. Place in a container heavy enough to hold long branches, strip foliage that will be underwater, place in a bright, cool location and change the water every third day to prevent bacterial build-up.

• Vegetables -- Plant asparagus crowns now through March in rows 3-4 inches deep if clay soil. Work compost or well-rotted manure into the soil.


• Jan. 31-Feb. 2, Antiques and Garden Show, Nashville,

• Feb. 4, Toolbox Series, McCracken County Extension Office, 5 p.m., 2025 New Holt Road, Paducah. For more information about the free program, call 270-554-9520.

• Feb. 11, Basics of Beekeeping Series, Marshall County Extension Office, 1933 Mayfield Highway, Benton. To register, call 270-527-3285.

• Feb. 27-March 1, Nashville Lawn and Garden Show,

Contact Carolyn Roof, the Sun's gardening columnist, at

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