Phyllis Both color for BNR

Phyllis Both

“Chop your own firewood. It will warm you twice.” — Henry Ford

It sure feels like January. My ducks prefer to be in their cozy, little house even during the day. The other day, our tabby cat jumped off the railing of the porch and landed in the dog’s heated water bowl. Five minutes later I heard him and lo and behold we had a cat popsicle. The only part of him that was not an ice cube was his face. Poor little guy. The heat vent in the kitchen defrosted him fast. Where is the camera when you need it?

Watching a snowfall from our cozy homes can be delightful and relaxing. However, it results in salting the roads and driveways which can wreak havoc on your lawns and trees. Contact between salt and plant tissue causes dehydration, leading to failed buds, witches brooms, slow growth and thinning. Salt that leaches into soil upsets the fine balance between nutrients, water and your plants. Leaf burns, reduction of flowers, fruit and leaf size, and even early leaf drop or color in fall can indicate salt damage. It doesn’t only show up in the spring. It can have long-term effects.

Do not let this happen to your precious landscape plants. Select salt-tolerant trees like honey locust, juniper, Regosa rose or Russian olive. Planting on berms will avoid salt run-off or you can install barriers in early winter to prevent salt slush from splashing plants. Never shovel salty snow onto your lawns or plants. People living near busy roads that are salted have the biggest problem. Consider using salt alternatives such as sand or ash. There are commercial salt melts on the market that are safe for plants and pets. Fortunately, our street is sanded. The only drawback is sweeping up all the sand in the spring. But I know that it is safe for our plants and pets.

A few more tasks for the next month: Some seeds need to be started in January, including ageratum, begonias and petunias. On the fourth week of January, start delphinium seeds for late summer blooms. Once you start feeding the birds, don’t stop because the birds will be counting on you and could possible starve.

The office is officially sold out of the phenology calendars.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County UW-Extension office, 608-355-3253.