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December 5, 2012

Unseasonably warm temps extend gardening season

Procrastinators have extra time to prepare perennials

OTTUMWA — The weather this year has been the exception in many ways, and December is continuing that trend. Thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures, gardeners in southeast Iowa have the opportunity to extend their schedules a little.

Richard Jauron, horticulturalist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, says that mid- to late November is generally the cutoff date for preparing perennials for the winter months. This year, however, anyone who has still has yard work to do has been given a bit of extra time.

“Everything should be done by now because you don’t want to wait and do things in December,” Jauron said. “You want to get it done on time in Iowa because we can’t count on the weather to cooperate. You can still do some things now, though, since the ground hasn’t frozen yet.”

Perennials that are well established, ones that have been in the ground for more than a year, don’t require any type of winter protection. Jauron says this includes peonies and hostas, which don’t need anything special to make it through the winter cold.

More delicate plants like hybrid tea roses and mums need more attention before cold truly sets in.

“Mums are a different story because they’re very finicky. They will either do well over the winter or they won’t,” Jauron explained.

To make sure they survive, Jauron suggests several inches of straw, pine needles and evergreen branches. Leaves are not the best mulch, he explains, because tend to mat down and won’t provide adequate protection. The mulch should remain in place until early April.

Perennial beds can be protected in much the same way, using a 6- to 8-inch layer of clean mulch. Any unplanted perennials can be planted, in their pots, and mulched as well. In the spring, they can be dug up and planted in their permanent location.

“You can still do some of these things now if you need to, but usually you can’t. It shouldn’t be something you plan on from year to year,” Jauron said.

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