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Switching to Winter mode in your landscape

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Late autumn can be a time filled with apprehension. Though there are plenty of things to do during this time of year... planting new trees, shrubs, perennials, scalping your lawn for the last mow of the season WHILE bagging up the leaves in the process, applying a low-nitrogen fertilizer (to encourage root-growth, NOT green-growth above ground), prepping all tools and equipment for winter storage, sweeping a few chimneys, harvesting the last of the hardy fruit and vegetable varieties, etc. There is always the sense that everything's gonna come to a screeching halt with the first hard freeze or significant accumulation of snow.

We just saw both for the first time last week! Temperatures plummeted to the low teens and single digits, then warmed up for a bit, but before returning to "normal" temperatures for this time of year, we got socked with snow... two inches on Monday, four more that evening and then an addition 5 inches during Tuesday's blizzard. Suddenly, everything switches from gardening mode to winterizing and snow-removal for our landscaping company. With a number of snow-shoveling jobs, clearing walkways and small parking areas, we also do a bit of plowing and snow-blowing for more rigorous tasks. The heavy snow during the first of last week saw us putting in a seventeen-hour day Monday, 7 1/2 hours on Tuesday and then an additional 6 hours on Wednesday to clear all the client sidewalks, parking lots, driveways and patios. That's not even counting the snow removal at our own place!

Fall firewood sales also predominate our priorities, assuring we have a stockpile for those who fail to prepare adequately on their own, or just prefer to leave the heavy labor to someone else. Remarkably, that's possible even with our own greenhouses, office and residences heated by secondary wood heat. We use it for the boiler that heats water piped through the floors of our buildings and the subsurface soil in the greenhouse, radiating warmth upwards to aid in propagating plants and moderating winter stress on some of our more tender plant varieties.

One of the great joys for us here at Rocky Mountain Boy, Inc. is live Christmas tree sales. This is a great time of year to prepare for a live Christmas tree. It's important to select a tree that is hardy to plant outdoors in your area. Anchorage and the Northern Rocky Mountain provinces and states are host to a number of suitable hardy species. Nearly any of the spruce, fir, hemlocks, cedars, Douglas Fir or even well-shaped pines can serve as live Christmas trees. The important thing to remember is plan to keep the trees indoors for less than a week. This makes it imperative to keep tree-size to a minimum... not only to make it possible to move the tree (a 3-4 ft tree in a 7-10 gallon pot will weigh about 60-80 lbs), but also to minimize the time/effort required for decorating and undecorating the tree.

Keeping the tree cool while it's indoors is important for best results. If possible, keep the tree in an unheated front room and avoid draping lights that produce heat that could break the tree's dormancy and cause damage from freezing when moved back outside. I like to recommend setting the potted tree outdoors the very day after Christmas and decorating it with popcorn and cranberry strings, and hanging pinecones smeared with peanut butter and then rolled in birdseed. If you use wildlife-friendly ornaments to begin with, that will save work in re-decorating. Once the ground thaws in Spring, dig a hole and plant your tree in the landscape. It's the ultimate in eco-friendly holidays.

Be careful when decorating the house and outdoor trees. Assure your ladder is sturdy and placed in a secure location before climbing it. Never over-reach when working at height and always have a companion hold one end of a rope on the opposite side of the house, so you can tie the other end around your waist if you have to work on the roof at all. More and more people are hiring out their holiday decorating and many landscape companies are offering the service to meet demand.

It's also flu and cold season, so it makes sense to take good care of yourself. Observe good hygien habits such as washing hands often and avoiding sharing eating utensils and cups without washing them. There's always the stress of the holidays to consider as well. If you're feeling poorly or noticably tired/stressed, it might be a good idea NOT to overplan for the holidays. People in a weakened state are usually MORE susceptible to getting sick. When you feel bad, your immune system is probably overtaxed and something as simple as over-stuffing yourself for the holidays is a way to overexert your natural resistance to getting sick. Take high dosages of vitamin C and be sure to keep your home humidified as heaters and stoves pull moisture out of the air. With good planning and extra care, it's possible to smoothly switch gears from Autumn activities to Winter and take it all in stride.

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