Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Early signs of winter caught Billings area off-guard

JIM GAINAN Growing Up | Posted: Sunday, November 8, 2009 12:00 am

The early cold snap this October sent many of us into a tailspin. It felt as though winter had arrived and was here to stay. I was particularly panicked because half of our roof was off the house when the snow and cold weather hit. Luckily the tarps that covered it for the week kept the water out and the project is now complete for the most part.

A nice mild fall is essential for those of us who like to have a certain amount of "order" in our gardens and yards before the snow flies. The beautiful falling leaves that are so full of glorious color provide the backdrop for cutting back perennials, trimming bushes and trees and amending soil. Unfortunately with the weather this year, we missed most of the color. The leaves just fell off providing lots of light and crunchy leaves to rake into big piles that create a fun play area for kids.

While the play does "undo" some of the work, it is a joy to watch them frolic and bury themselves under the leaves only to pop out and scare their friends who are equally as intrigued.

Should we expect the return of fall in November? Yes, the weather forecast reveals that the weather will indeed hold its mild patterns long enough for most of us to do proper clean up and bulb planting for fall. Here's a list of some of the things I will be working on this weekend:

Trim bushes and low branches on trees. A customer told me at the Christmas Show that she had heard that the time to trim anything occurs in any month that has the letter "r" in it. That means September, October, November, December, January, February, March and April are all months for trimming. This really makes sense because I've always been told the best time to trim and reshape trees is when the sap has stopped running. When trees are dormant they are also less likely to suffer from cross-contamination from dirty chainsaws and pruning shears.

I'm going to take this time to evaluate the overall shape of the trees in my yard. If two trees are tangled at the top I'm going to prune them back so that they are properly shaped. During periods of defoliation, it is also a great time to reshape bushes by following the bare branches back to their starting point and trimming accordingly.

You'll be so proud of your work over the winter when you have perfectly shaped trees and shrubs beginning to foliate in the spring! Please call a professional if the trees that you trim require that your feet leave the ground to get to the branch you want to take out. It is very dangerous and serious personal injury can occur when attempting to save some money and do it all yourself.

Clean, inventory and replace tools. I have shovels in every corner of my yard, thanks to my 3-year-old son who loves to dig. Rather than scurrying around next spring and possibly making a duplicate purchase, I'm going to gather every tool, snipper, rake and shovel -I mean everything that I use for gardening -and lay them out in the garage. If the handles are broken or full of splinters, I'll fix them or toss. Ultimately, I hope to have the most organized set of tools that I've ever had.

I'd even like to hang them all in an interesting way in the garage. I remember seeing a garage once that had peg board with each tool in its place with a white line traced around the tool so that when they were put away it was very easy to see where they go. That may be a little too ambitious for me this year but, it's always good to have a goal. I just want them all clean, sharp, repaired if needed and in ONE place. Depending on how things go, I may even wash the lawn mower!

Clean gutters. The task speaks for itself. Even with leaf guards and other types of preventative measures, leaves can make their way in. I have a flat roof on about half of the house, so it's a pretty simple task. I just climb out of one of the upstairs bedroom windows, which I would not want anyone to watch -it's not pretty. Once I'm securely on the roof, with the leaf blower on my back and headphones on, I make my way around the perimeter blowing off the roof and the gutters. I know I've done a good job if there is a huge mess on the ground when I'm done.

There are companies that offer this service if your gutters are difficult to clean, reach or you are uninterested in the task.

The reason it is so important to have clean gutters is because the cycle of snow/melt/snow/melt creates ice if during the melt stage, the water is unable to make its way down the gutter. This ice buildup can cause problems with your roof.

Also, during a big melt, the excess water just falls straight down by the foundation of the house creating the possibility of reverse drainage, or at a minimum, a very soggy area of dirt by the foundation. The sogginess can allow moisture to leech in.

Prepare flower beds and gardens. After all of the leaves have been blown, raked, bagged or picked up curbside by the city, the barren yard will be ready for spring planning. I like to cut back perennials but leave a small wire flag by each so that I don't forget their location when I am eagerly planting annuals in the spring.

Once everything is cut back, a topcoat of compost, fresh mulching materials and even small bark can dress up the yard for the winter. I also sprinkle a little water on the topcoat so that it will freeze together and not blow away with the winter winds.

This topcoat really adds to the aesthetic appearance during the long winter months. If we lived in an area where we always had a clean blanket of snow, obviously it wouldn't be seen. But, in our area there are actually very few days where we see snow on the ground for prolonged periods of time, so the effort is well worthwhile. An additional benefit is that the perennials poke through the topcoat in the spring and the mulch is already there!

Plant bulbs and trees now. If you envy your neighbor whose yard is filled with tulips and daffodils that signal the beginning of spring, now is the time to plant them. But hurry; after the ground freezes, it's too late. They need the winter cold to prepare them for their spring show. You could still plant a tree. In fact, the tree will have a head start over planting it next spring.

I apologize for giving you more to think about, just when you thought you could sit back and relax! Make it a fun family effort and do it quickly. Your work will pay you benefits tenfold.

P.S. Thank you for joining us for our 59th annual Christmas Show. It was wonderful to see your faces and to reminisce with so many of you.

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.