COVINGTON - If you've taken steps to protect yourself and loved ones from the bitter cold this winter, it might be a good idea to now consider how to look after your animals and plants.
The Humane Society recommends bringing pets indoors if temperatures go below 32 degrees.
Those that are left outside should have adequate shelter and warmth.
Freddie Ellis, senior administrative specialist with Newton County Animal Control, recommends putting shavings, hay and/or blankets in dog houses, and keeping dog houses near trees or buildings to block them from the wind.
If possible, bring animals into the garage or inside the home, she said.
"Common sense tells you that if you don't want to be out there, why put your animals out there?" she said.
Be sure to check water bowls for ice, the Humane Society warns.
Also, cats and kittens sometimes crawl into car engines to keep warm and may be severely injured or killed when the car is cranked. Before cranking the car, bang on the hood and blow the horn to give the animals a warning and a chance to come out.
Here are some other tips from the Humane Society:
· Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm - dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.
· Thoroughly wipe off your dog's legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. He can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking his paws, and his paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.
· Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When you bathe your dog in the colder months, be sure to completely dry him before taking him out for a walk. Own a short-haired breed? Consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
· Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
· Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.
· Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.
Protecting plants is also important during the cold season.
Sheets or plastic bags can help retain heat, and should be sealed at the base, said Newton County Extension Agent Ted Wynne.
But perhaps the best method to prevent freezing is spreading a layer of mulch to protect the root system of trees and shrubs. As the mulch decomposes, it releases heat, and in the summertime, the mulch makes the trees and shrubs more water efficient by retaining moisture, Wynne said.
Potted plants such as ferns that people may prefer to put outside during the day should be kept inside if temperatures are 28 degrees or lower, he said.
Plants such as Camellia, rosemary and shrubs are holding up well, but others, like forsythia and cherry blossoms, which have bloomed earlier due to warmer than normal temperatures, are suffering, he said.
"Once the frost kills the blooms, that's it for the rest of the year," he said.
Even fescue grass is taking a beating this winter, Wynne said.
But, the cold weather is of benefit: Wheat and peach farmers need it to produce a healthy crop, he noted.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at email@example.com.