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posted: 12/22/2013 1:00 AM

Snow presents challenges for gardeners

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  • As the snow piles up, branches can be damaged under its weight.

    As the snow piles up, branches can be damaged under its weight.

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden

Monitor your garden for animal damage during the winter and install protection as needed. Look for gnawed bark at the base of trees and shrubs.

Rabbits can cause considerable damage over the course of winter by feeding on shrubs. As snow piles up, they can reach higher and higher to eat. Try to avoid piling up snow at the base of plants when shoveling by spreading the snow even around as you shovel. A cylinder of chicken wire around a tree or shrub will work well to exclude rabbits.

Trees and shrubs also can be damaged by deer. Use physical barriers such as wire or netting to protect plants from deer browsing. Deer love yews and arborvitaes and these shrubs likely will be browsed in areas where deer are active. Hanging soap or hair in branches generally will not deter deer.

Carefully shake snow off trees and shrubs during heavy wet storms to minimize damage from the added weight. Once the snow or ice has frozen onto branches, it is best to leave it alone and let it melt off; trying to remove frozen snow or ice can cause considerable damage to plants.

Cleaning a home greenhouse thoroughly will reduce pest problems next year. Clear it out and scrub benches, fixtures and the bars of the glazing with a disinfectant such as one part bleach to nine parts water. Be sure to thoroughly hose off all surfaces when finished scrubbing.

If you are planning to grow plants over the winter, wash the greenhouse windows inside and out to admit maximum light.

Clear the fuel out of small four- and two-cycle engines such as lawnmowers and leaf blowers as you put them away for the winter. Fuel that sits for a long period ages and can form residues that may plug the small fuel jets in the carburetor.

There are two approaches. One option is to drain the fuel out of the gas tank and run the engine to get all of the fuel out of the fuel lines and carburetor. Do this outdoors, not in the garage.

The other option is to fill the gas tank, add a gas stabilizer and run the engine to get the treated gas into the carburetor. If you are using a gas that has ethanol in it, it is important to use a stabilizer that is made to eliminate corrosion associated with alcohol fuels.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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