Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Tree, shrub barks enhance the winter landscape

With deciduous trees and shrubs shedding their leaves, it would seem all that's left to stare at for the next five to six months is the gray or brown bark of stems and branches. You may be thinking: "How dull is that?" If so, I suggest you may be barking up the wrong tree, or barking at the wrong bark. Bark can actually be very interesting and add some color to an otherwise monochromatic late fall and winter landscape.

To see what I mean, I suggest embarking on a stroll around town or visits to public gardens. There you may see a paperbark maple (Acer griseum) with its peeling cinnamon-colored bark, a multi-stemmed specimen of river birch (Betula nigra "Heritage") with its curling reddish-brown bark, the coral-colored stems of Japanese maple "Sango Kaku" (Acer palmatum "Sango Kaku") or a Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseuodocamillia), whose bark resembles a mosaic of gray, reddish-brown and orange patches, somewhat similar to that found on the trunk of mature kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). As you saunter, you may also see shrubs in the dogwood family with stem colors ranging from dark red to yellow.

Though these trees and shrubs can still be planted this fall, it may be difficult to find specimens at retail nurseries since supplies are short at this time of year. However, if you don't want to be left barking at the moon, make a note on your spring calendar to track down one or several of the aforementioned species.


I don't intend my bark to be worse than my bite, but get moving on these late-season tasks:

- Sow some seeds of hardy annuals such as verbena, alyssum, cosmos, calliopsis, snapdragon, portulaca and poppy in a prepared flower bed. They'll survive the winter and begin growth long before you might otherwise sow those seeds in spring. In the vegetable garden, you might also try sowing seeds of carrots, lettuce, onions, beets, parsnips and herbs including dill, parsley, chervil and cilantro. These are all pretty tough seeds from hardy plants and should easily survive the winter. A light covering of coarse mulch (e.g. straw) may be of some benefit in keeping soil frozen during winter, preventing seed decay from frequently thawed soils.

- Dig a few parsnips and horseradish roots to enjoy now, but leave the rest for digging in spring after the ground has thawed, but before new growth begins.

- Leave some Brussels sprouts out until they freeze hard. Harvest and cook them while they are still frozen. You'll never eat another summer-harvested sprout after this taste treat. I suppose you could also eat them frozen as Brussels sproutscicles.

- Turn over vacant areas of the vegetable garden soil if you haven't planted a winter cover crop. Leave the soil surface rough to capture rain and melting snow, and to reduce erosion by wind and water.

- Guard against mice girdling the trunks of young fruit trees by clearing areas 4 to 6 feet in diameter around the trees. Place a layer of gravel around each trunk to eliminate mouse hiding places. As an additional precaution, place cylinders of quarter-inch wire mesh (hardware cloth) around the trunks, extending each several inches below ground.

- Cut down the dried stems of Japanese anemones, monkshood and platycodon, and mark their location with wood, metal or plastic labels. These perennials get a late start in spring, and it is easy to lose track of their whereabouts, especially when some early digging needs to be done.

- Cut down, and remove from the garden, stems of perennial flowers which were infected with powdery mildew or other leaf and stem diseases. The best way to dispose of these infected plants is to bury them. Leaving the plant debris on the ground will only provide inoculum for infections next year.

- Drain the water from garden hoses and store them indoors before they become a permanent part of this winter's landscape.

- Brush the wooden handles of garden tools with a mixture of one part linseed oil to two parts of paint thinner. While you're at it, wax your snow shovel blade (Ugh! A cold shiver just ran up my spine) and treat the wood handle with the preservative.

- Be careful not to overwater houseplants now. With shorter days (I thought they were all 24 hours long.), and decreased intensity of light, soils in pots do not dry as quickly nor do plants grow much if at all.


Now that you are sufficiently annoyed at my persistent barking, it seems like a good time to close the Garden Journal for this year. Have a healthy, prosperous and joyful fall and winter!


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