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LifestyleHome & Garden

It's stime to secure rain barrels against the cold

I'm a new rain barrel user and am trying to figure out how to "shut it down" for the winter. I saw some advice online, but it didn't quite make sense.

When water freezes inside the rain barrel, it expands and can damage the components. So to winterize your rain barrel, drain the water and turn it upside down so water can not accumulate.

Cover or plug the spigot so water can't get in it. If turning the rain barrel upside down is too difficult, drain it, leave the spigot open and cover the top so rain cannot enter.

Be sure to reconnect your downspout for the winter, directing water flow away from the house foundation.

When rain barrels are in a warm, south-facing microclimate, owners sometimes get away with simply draining the barrel and leaving the spigot open.

I bought three small Christmas tree-shaped rosemary shrubs. The inside branches are brown and bare, but the outside foliage is green. They are doing well, but should I do something about the inside brown branches? Also, mildew showed up twice, so I sprayed them with 1 part milk to 9 parts water because I use the rosemary for cooking.

You can remove the old dead leaves by brushing them down with your hands, raking your fingers through to dislodge them, or shaking the shrubs.

Rosemary commonly gets mildew indoors. Try to keep them in a sunny spot and keep the air as moist as you can.

Moist air seems counterintuitive for a Mediterranean plant, but setting the pots on a tray of water (not in the water) should do the trick. Be sure the air circulation is good. You may have to prune badly mildewed branches.

Can biodegradable packing peanuts — those that dissolve when wet — be composted? Our compost goes on a vegetable garden.

Yes indeed. Place them in your compost bin. If you like, you can toss in a small handful of garden fertilizer (containing nitrogen) or some green kitchen scraps to hasten their decomposition.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question from the website at hgic.umd.edu.

Plant of the week

Jewel orchid

Haemaria discolor or Ludisia discolor

Jewel orchids are truly the plant for folks that want to ease into growing orchids but are afraid to try. This gem belongs to the terrestrial orchids — cascading ground plants. Its dark velvety, shiny leaves with contrasting red or gold veins remain attractive year round. An 18-inch flower spike emerges in winter, producing small, white flowers. Indirect sun, normal room temperatures and plenty of humidity are all that's necessary to keep them happy. At 6 to 8 inches high, they enjoy growing in terrariums, such as Wardian cases. Plant in a mix of equal parts peat moss, perlite and potting soil. Top with moistened sphagnum moss to increase the humidity. Easily propagated from stem cuttings.

— Debbie Recigliano

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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