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Winter gardening tips: Rethink that rock salt and remember the birds

A black-capped chickadee lands with a load of food at it's new home in Lawrence, Kansas, Thursday, May 1, 2014. The chickadee nest for 12-14 days and will hide seeds and other food items to eat later. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Meet Mike later this month!

Mike will appear on Saturday, Feb. 23 and Sunday, Feb. 24 at the Capital Home & Remodel Show at the Dulles Expo Canter in Chantilly, Virginia.

That’s not the last ice we’ll see this season!

OK — the polar vortex has spun off to threaten others, but some of its remnants may remain to threaten our plants. Especially if you chose to ignore my repeated suggestions to have ice-melting calcium chloride on hand and used cheap rock salt on your ice instead.

Didn’t work, did it? That’s because temperatures got too low for salt, but not for calcium chloride to work. So, go out and get some alternative de-icer now, before the next icy event approaches.

And, if you did salt — or the local road crews got salt on your lawn and landscape — take advantage of the current balmy weather to wet down the areas closest to your roads and walkways with plain water to dilute the plant-killing NACL.

Feed the birds, just not with Bond Bread!

Did you follow my advice to set up suet feeders around your home to benefit overwintering birds?

If the answer is yes, you just got treated to an amazing display of chickadees, wrens, nuthatch, flickers, red-breasted woodpeckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

But, don’t stop now: Our overwintering birds still need the high levels of fat and protein that only suet feeders can provide. And suet feeders don’t attract rats, mice, deer and Evil Squirrels the way seed feeders do.

The biggest “don’t” is tossing stale bread outside. Sure, the birds will eat it, but then they’re all filled up — with none of the nutrition they need to survive. Not feeding is better than bread feeding.

A trio of tantalizing catalogs of seed for spring

  • Territorial Seeds is as old-school as it gets. Dating back to 1979 — when, appropriately, a peanut farmer was president — they currently maintain a 75-acre certified organic research, trial and seed production farm in the Cascade Mountain Range. They grow some of their plants in a “select maintenance breeding program” designed to reproduce the growing conditions of yore, and thus produce the sturdiest, most natural-looking and best-tasting fruits and veggies. Flowers, too. They carry everything from artichokes — including a purple variety from Italy — to 12 pages of tomatoes, plus flowers, herbs and nifty tools. (I want a water breaker!) See it all or request a catalog at www.territorialseed.com.
  • The opening line in the new Gardens Alive catalog is “research tells us that people feel happier when they’re connected to nature,” and they then proceed to help us realize that goal with seeds and resources for a natural, healthy chemical-free lawn, specific fertilizers for each type of plant (not just a buncha numbers on bags), and raised bed kits so easy I could assemble them. (And I barely have opposable thumbs!) Plus, a wide array of fruits and veggies, available as seeds or live plants, including the Iron Lady — a hybrid tomato that’s proven to be resistant to the dreadest of diseases, namely early blight, late blight and Septoria leaf spot. See it all or request a free catalog at www.gardensalive.com.
  • Years ago, I remember walking past a vintage clothing and furniture store with a great sign in the window that read, “New Today: Nothing!” Of course that wasn’t true for that store, and it certainly isn’t true of the catalog from Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Company. They’ve been around for over a century, but always keep up with the times with new introductions such as the RazzMatazz seedless grape. Perfect for the warmer parts of our area, the grapes taste like raspberry candy (I was privileged to taste a few recently) and the plants set ripe fruit clusters all summer long! Of course, Gurney’s also has everything you need to grow tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, pole beans, bush beans, apples, peaches, pumpkins and more. See it all or request a free catalog at www.gurneys.com.

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at MikeMcG@PTD.net.

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