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In the Garden

Q: What’s the best way to keep a hummingbird feeder from freezing in winter?

A: This is an important question because while feeders encourage hummingbirds to remain here throughout winter and supply needed nourishment, the hummingbirds can become dependent on the nectar we provide for survival. A long-lasting cold snap can be deadly if the nectar in the feeder they rely on is allowed to freeze. Never hang a feeder unless you know you’ll be home and able to make sure there is fresh nectar available all winter long. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to keep the nectar from freezing even in the coldest weather. If you have an electricity source near the feeder, buy plumber’s heat tape at your local hardware store. Make sure to use the kind that has a thermostat built into the cord. These flexible tapes draw very little power. They look like flat extension cords and, wrapped around and taped to most types of feeders, provide just the right amount of heat to keep the nectar from freezing in all conditions. If you don’t have electricity nearby, hand warmers used by skiers work just as well. Duct taped to the bottom of the feeder, they’ll keep the nectar thawed for about 7 hours in even the coldest weather. They’re available by the case at sports stores or online. Finally, it’s a good idea to have two feeders full of nectar so you can rotate them, and have a spare ready to go in any emergency. Despite what you may have heard, keep the nectar recipe the same in winter as summer: one part sugar to four parts water. Stronger mixes can harm these little guys. Finally, make sure there is a thawed feeder hanging and ready at the crack of dawn. After a long cold night, the last thing we want to do is make these hungry little guys wait for their breakfast!

Q: Is there still time to overseed my lawn this fall? It really thinned out after I let it go dormant this summer.

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A: Generally it’s best to overseed by mid-October to allow time for the seed to germinate and gain a foothold before it gets too wet and cold, and the grass stops growing. Grass seed isn’t all that expensive, so if conditions remain dry enough and you do it ASAP, it’s probably worth the gamble. Grass seed lying on the surface of the ground will rarely survive, so you want to rent an aerating machine to pull plugs from your lawn first; however, you can only do that if the soil isn’t too wet. It’s best if it’s about as moist as a squeezed sponge. If we’re into the winter rains, you’ll have to wait to overseed until next spring, as running a heavy aeration machine over soggy ground will seriously damage soil structure. Use the machine to pull as many plugs as possible, and then rake the seed into the aeration holes. Don’t worry about the plugs because they’ll break down and disappear. Fertilize with an organic lawn food, and water it all in. If we’re experiencing a fall dry spell, water as often as necessary each day to keep the surface moist. If nature cooperates and it stays mild until around Thanksgiving, you’ll have a beautiful new stand of grass, much more able to withstand next summer’s drought than if you waited to reseed next spring.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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