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Winter Garden Clean Up
How to Grow Japanese Red Maple Trees from Seed
Perils Of Pressure Treated Wood
Hearty Cold Weather Soup Recipe

Winter Garden Clean Up

by Arzeena Hamir
Originally published at
As winter approaches, it's tempting just to sit back and put your feet up and not have to think about the garden until springtime. However, just a bit of extra work at this time of the year can save you a whole lot of hassle come planting time. Garden clean-up, the last big chore for gardeners, is often overlooked, especially if it's been a strenuous gardening year. But by cleaning-up garden debris, composting the healthy material and throwing away the rest, gardeners will benefit in numerous ways:

  • Removing garden debris will keep pests under control. Many insects, like the asparagus beetle, will overwinter in debris and come out even earlier the following year. Slugs & snails love to hide under leaves and will often lay their eggs in these comfy areas. Older cabbage leaves, for example, should be removed so that slugs don't have easy access to the heart of the cabbage.

  • Diseased plant material laying around in the garden can be sources of infection the following year. The Late Blight fungus that infects tomatoes and potatoes has been shown to infect gardens especially where volunteer plants sprout early in the spring.

  • Your compost pile will benefit from the healthy material you add into it. If much of the garden material is still green, make sure to mix-in some "brown" material such as tree leaves (which are plentiful right now), dried grass, straw, or shredded newspaper.

Welcome the winter frosts

While frosts usually signal the end of tender plant growth, for over wintering plants like kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, parsnips and radicchio, a good frost actually sweetens the taste! How does this occur? These overwintering plants actually use sugar as an antifreeze! By pumping more sugar into their cells, and reducing the water content, the plants are able to withstand colder temperatures. For home gardeners, this mechanism is an added bonus. Not only do they survive for longer periods, the taste of these vegetables improves after a good frost.

So, when the garden shows signs of that silvery hue, rejoice!

Arzeena is the Contributing Editor - Vegetable Gardening at

How to Grow Japanese Red Maple Trees from Seed

by Michael J. McGroarty
Most Japanese Maple seeds ripen in the fall. Watch the tree and wait for the seeds to turn brown. The seeds are ready to be harvested when they are brown and can be easily removed from the tree. The seeds are attached to a wing, it's best to break the wing off before storing or planting the seeds.

Japanese Maple seeds have a very hard outer coating as do many ornamental plants. Under natural conditions the seeds would have to be on the ground for almost two years before they would germinate. All that happens the first winter is the moisture softens the hard outer shell, and the second winter germination is beginning to take place. In order for all of this to happen in the proper sequence so the seedlings actually sprout at a time of the year when freezing temperatures or hot summer sun doesn't kill them, takes a tremendous amount of luck. You can improve the odds by controlling some of these conditions, and shorten the cycle.

Once you have picked the seeds and removed the wing just place them in a paper bag and store them in a cool dry place until you are ready for them. You don't want to plant your seeds out in the spring until the danger of frost has past, here in the north May 15th is a safe bet. If May 15th is your target date you should count backwards on the calendar 100 days. That will take you to about February 5th if my math is correct.

On or about the 100th day prior to your target planting date, take the seeds and place them in a Styrofoam cup or other container that will withstand some hot water. Draw warm to hot water from your kitchen faucet and pour it over the seeds. Most of the seeds will float, just leave them in the water overnight as the water cools down. 24 hours later most of the seeds will have settled to the bottom of the cup, drain off the water. Place the seeds in a plastic bag with a mixture of sand and peat or other suitable mix. Even light potting soil will work. The peat or soil should be moist, but not soaking wet. Poke some holes in the bag so there is some air circulation, and place the bag in your refrigerator for a period of 100 days.

After 100 days you can plant the seeds outside. If you have timed it correctly, you should be at or close to your target planting date. To plant the seeds just sow them on top of a bed of well drained topsoil or sterilized potting soil, and cover with approximately 3/8" of soil. Water them thoroughly, but allow the soil to dry out completely before watering thoroughly again.

If you water them frequently, not only do you stand a chance of the seeds rotting from being too wet, but you will also keep them cool, which will slow down the germination process. Once they start to germinate provide about 50% shade to keep the sun from burning them. Snow fence suspended about 30" above the bed will provide about 50% shade.

Japanese Maples will tolerate some shade so it isn't too important to transplant them too quickly. Depending on how close together they are, you might be able to leave them in the same bed for one or two growing seasons. Don't transplant until they are completely dormant.

Michael J. McGroarty is the author of the popular gardening newsletter, "Mike McGroarty's Gardening Newsletter", and the webmaster of, stop by and sign up for his newsletter, it's free.

Perils Of Pressure Treated Wood

by Cindy Kerschner
Now is the time many gardeners construct, repair or replace raised beds to get a jump on spring planting. It also gives us a great opportunity to prepare the soil inside for next year's growing season. But did you know that the lumber you choose can actually hurt you?

Pressure treated wood is created by forcing chemical preservatives into the wood cells. These preservatives- creosote, pentachlorophenol and chromated copper arsenate salts - help make the wood resistant to decay by curbing fungus and insect attacks.

Although this is very appealing for raised bed construction, these chemicals leach into the soil and eventually into the plants.

There is an ongoing argument that a certain level of chromium must be in the soil before a plant can absorb these toxins. This would work the same way calcium and magnesium need each other in proper balance for a plant to absorb certain nutrients. But keep in mind, although these chemicals remain in the top few inches of soil, that is the area where our plants absorb most of their nutrients.

Pressure treated wood often takes on a greenish tint due to the copper residue. Lumber that is treated should be marked, but ask your dealer to be sure of what you are buying.

Also stay away from old railroad ties and utility poles that are often covered in creosote. If you want to dispose of these items, take them to a hazardous waste disposal site. This practice also applies to any pressure treated lumber. Burning it releases toxins into the air, which, could make you sick or worse if inhaled.

Building structures such as walkways or piers around ponds with pressure treated lumber can be a hazard for fish. Copper residue will kill fish. It is wiser to use a naturally resistant wood like cedar to make your raised beds and windowboxes. You can also use stone, brick or cement block, but these can add lime, so check your ph often. So enjoy the benefits of raised beds and save the pressure treated wood for home construction.

Cindy Kerschner teaches composting for Penn State and the DEP through the Master Gardeners program. For more tips, sign up for her newsletters at or visit her at Garden With Grammy K


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