Norma Sowell, RIP — Wichita’s herb grower extraordinaire Norma Sowell died this week. Norma was known as “the herby lady,” and she dispensed information and her love of growing and cooking with culinary herbs at many a talk in town. She once shared with me (and Eagle readers) her favorite culinary herbs: Genovese basil, German thyme, Greek oregano, chives, Hill Hardy rosemary, garden sage, French tarragon, lemon thyme, chervil and summer savory. Do you have a favorite tip from or memory of Norma?
Full cold moon — Sparkling clear winter nights are ideal for viewing the moon and the stars. And they signal frigid weather. So it is that the full moon reaching its apex at 8:36 this December morning is known as the full cold moon. The full December moon also known as the long nights moon by some Indian tribes, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Frozen birdbaths — If your birdbath is frozen over, it’s a sign that you need to add an electric heater, or an electric birdbath. If you’re not using one, turn over your concrete basins, or store them indoors, so they don’t crack in the cold.
When frost gets in the ground — The time to mulch plants for winter is after frost is in the ground, K-State Research & Extension says. That usually happens four to six weeks after the first freeze, K-State says. Plans need the gradual cooling (we always hope it’s gradual) to go dormant naturally. Mulch applied after the soil has frozen then works to protect plants from further fluctuations until it’s time for spring to wake them back up. It also helps hold in moisture and protect the soil from compaction or erosion, K-State says. For hardy plants, mulch is not a must. But for semi-hardies that have limited or shallow roots, such as mums and strawberries, mulch is vital, K-State says. Plants that have been in the ground less than a year also belong in this group, whether trees, shrubs, perennials or bulbs, K-State says. Hybrid tea roses have tender canes and need an 8- to 10-inch-high mound of soil and/or compost to protect the graft. A 4-inch mulch layer should go on top of that when the plants are dormant, K-State says.
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Protect young trees — Young trees are vulnerable in the winter because they don’t yet have tough bark or strong roots, K-State says. “If you don’t protect them through winter, you can lose your investment to wildlife or the weather,” Ward Upham, K-State Research and Extension horticulturist, says.
He recommends doing the following for young trees:
• Stake young trees exposed to harsh winds. (Remove staking next spring.)
• Make sure they have moisture a foot deep. Water deeply several times through winter, if the weather warms up enough to allow it.
• Apply a 3-inch mulch layer over the root zone, leaving a half-foot of bare space/soil on all sides of the trunk. Mice view mulch piled up against tender bark as their winter’s room and board.
• Create a barrier to exclude rabbits. The traditional one is a 2-feet-tall cylinder of 1-inch-mesh chicken wire. Plastic tree wraps and spray-on repellents are also options. Wildlife-related wood loss threatens tree health. If an animal’s nibbling circles the trunk, “girdling” it with a strip of lost bark and cambium(green) tissue, the tree will die.
• Apply a light-colored tree wrap (generally tar-treated kraft paper or a spiraling plastic strip) from the ground to first branches. (Remove wrapping in spring.) New trees need this protection from direct sunlight and shifting temperatures for at least two winters. Young trees with smooth, thin bark such as ashes, all fruit trees, honey locusts, lindens, maples, oaks and willows, need wrapping for five or more winters.
For an unprotected thin-barked tree, sunny winter days can create a dangerous difference in bark temperatures, Upham said. The southwest side of a peach tree’s trunk, for example can be up 40 degrees warmer than its northeast side. Often that’s enough for the southwest bark to lose winter hardiness and be susceptible to nighttime freezing. The result can be disfiguring sunscald.
Living Christmas trees — If you plan to buy a potted living evergreen for your Christmas tree, be sure the ground is soft enough for a hole to be dug for the tree. If it is, dig the hole now, then cover it so that it is safe until you’re ready to plant the tree after Christmas. Keep any real Christmas trees indoors for only a few days at the most, so they don’t break dormancy.
Entertainment at Illuminations — More than 1,100 musicians are part of Botanica’s holiday-season lights display, Illuminations, continues nightly through Dec. 31 (except for Dec. 24 and 25). Hours are 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The cost is $7 for adults, $5 for children 2 to 12. Here’s a schedule of some of the seasonal entertainment:
• Today: Cessna Jazz Band (6 to 8:15 p.m.) in the Terrace Room; Heart of America Men’s Chorus (6 to 7 p.m.) in the Children’s Garden
• Sunday: Flatland String Band (6 to 8:15 p.m.) in the Terrace Room
• Monday: Hadley Jazz Band/Orchestra (7 to 8:15 p.m.) in the Terrace Room
• Wednesday: South High School Orchestra (6 to 7 p.m.) in the Terrace Room; Scheer Delights (7:15 to 8:15 p.m.) in the Terrace Room; Lonetree Youth Mennonite Group (7:15 to 8:15 p.m.) in the Children’s Garden.
Refreshments also are available in the Terrace Room, and s’mores over the firepit on the terrace.