Home News MASTER GARDENER NEWS: Hibernation



Paul J. Hang

Not hyper-nation, that’s coming. Hibernation is when an animal goes into a state of dormancy, slower metabolism, living off reserves of body fat.

Although that sounds like me in winter, humans do not hibernate according to that scientific definition. It also commonly means less active, staying at home and socializing less and by that definition, in winter, I certainly qualify.

So does the sun. It is staying at its southern home, coming out less and even then occasionally, briefly and shyly peeking from behind its cloudy curtains.

Plants don’t hibernate the way some mammals do. In winter most perennials go dormant, live off of stored reserves, and have slower growth, if any. So, by the more general definition, we could say they hibernate.

Iris, daylilies and others have stored up reserves in root, corm and bulb. They sleep snuggled underground protected from harsh winter winds.

Trees and shrubs live more dangerously, out in the open, starkly naked, exposed to all that winter can throw at them. They have stored reserves in their roots. They also have their buds bundled up ready for the spring when they will reveal flower or leaf.

Dogwood, buckeye, hickory all have prominent buds. Observe them. Cut one open and see the embryonic leaves inside. It’s difficult but awesome to realize that those buds were begun last spring and were pretty much complete by mid-summer. The buds are clothed in scales that act as winter parkas. They are also infused with glycol, an anti-freeze, like some of us during this holiday season.

We are all, plants and animals, using our adaptations to survive the winter and be ready for renewed life come the warming. By next month, our celebrated Pennsylvania hibernator will be rudely awakened by the local Chamber of Commerce to be exploited for weather predictions and tourists. No self-respecting groundhog would be waking up in February.

Likewise, we needn’t waken from our winter slumber for a couple more months. Dream and daydream about the coming spring and the fabulous garden that we will surely have. January can be a time for planning, thinking about the year ahead. Don’t forget to check with OSU Extension websites such as ohioline.osu.edu when researching your ideas for the growing season.

January is also when we hear about people’s resolutions and are exhorted to come up with our own. How about planning to be a Master Gardener Volunteer? MGV’s complete a 50-hour training program and volunteer to spread science based gardening practices. We will be having an open house information session at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Pickaway County Library on North Court Street.

The training program will begin March 23 and runs all day on Thursdays until early May and provides intensive training in horticulture to interested residents who then volunteer their time assisting with educational programs and activities through the local Ohio State University Extension county office. You are not required to have gardening skills or knowledge: a passion for learning about gardening and sharing this knowledge with others is a must!

Things to do in the garden:

The list of things to do in the garden has gotten shorter. Things we can do about gardening can fill your idle hours, if you have any, are: Review last year’s garden; draw a map while you can still remember what grew where.

Check your supply of old seeds. Are they expired? Do you want to reorder that variety? Read your new seed catalogs and begin to plan next year’s garden. It’s not nearly as much work. Order seeds and plants of new varieties that you want now. They usually sell out quickly.

Believe it or not, by the end of the month, you can begin to grow members of the Allium family (Onions, Leeks, Garlic and Shallots) from seed indoors. You can get ready by getting your seed starting supplies together. Make sure you provide plenty of light.

Cut back on watering your houseplants and don’t fertilize until March or April when growth begins as the amount of light lengthens. When your poinsettias are looking ragged throw them on the compost heap. The same goes for paper whites. In my opinion it is not worth trying to get them to bloom again for the next holidays. If you like a challenge go ahead, but be prepared for disappointment. Amaryllis and Christmas cactus are exceptions and can be kept for re-blooming. Check the Internet for instructions.

Plan your gardens and plantings. One of my favorite guides for this is The Ohio Gardening Guide by Jerry Minnich. Need some more seed catalogs? Go to gardeningplaces.com.

Establish a new bed by placing black plastic or several layers of newspaper, cardboard or even old carpet down over the area you’ve chosen for the new bed. Weight it down so the wind doesn’t disturb it. By late spring the vegetation under it should be dead and the space ready for planting.

Learn to sharpen your tools, trowels, pruners, spades and if you are really adventurous, your mower blades. Oil them and use linseed oil on the wooden handles. It’s always a good idea to consult the experts. Go on line and google it.

Getting rid of a live Christmas tree? Don’t. Use it to serve as a wind break for evergreens, cut the branches off and use them as mulch for perennials, put them near your bird feeders as cover, decorate them with suit, fruit, seed cakes, as a bird feeder, Chip them eventually for mulch. The needles can also be mulch and will not make the soil too acidic. If you had a balled live tree plant it ASAP.

This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal