by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
The days grow short as we move into the last of the 2016 gardening season. This is a time to relax, sip some tea while warming our feet by the fire, and reflect on our gardening successes and near misses. But there still are some things to watch for in December, so here are seven gardening ideas for closing down this year’s garden and to ensure healthy plants through the winter.
#1 HOUSEPLANT CARE
- Watch closely for flying fungus gnats in the house or greenhouse; they kill houseplants. Treat with Bonide’s Systemic Granules at first sign of trouble.
- Reduce watering of houseplants as light levels drop.
- Check that houseplants are getting enough light – most do best on a sunny windowsill.
- Cacti and succulents need a period of dormancy over winter, so keep them barely moist and do not feed. Resume watering and food in spring.
- Plant amaryllis bulbs.
- Cyclamen prefer a cool room and being watered from below, i.e. in the saucer, not the pot.
- Poinsettias should be kept in a warm room and away from drafts to ensure they last as long as possible.
- Put indoor hyacinths in a cool room. If they become too warm the flowers will be short-lived.
- If Christmas cacti fail to set buds the room may be too warm or the plant is receiving too much artificial light. If so, try moving the plant to a cooler room, near a window.
#2 LAWN CARE
- If winter is mild, grass will continue to grow; if this is the case it may be necessary to give the lawn a trim. Make sure mower blades are set at 1.5 – 2 inches high.
- Once you have completed the last cut make sure the mower is clean and dry before storing. Remember to drain fuel as unleaded gas doesn’t keep and may cause issues when beginning the next mowing season. Consider servicing the mower and sharpening blades for next year.
- Continue to rake fallen leaves off lawns so they don’t block out light and air to the grass.
- Avoid walking on the grass on frosty mornings as it can damage or blacken the grass.
- You can still apply Watters 7-4-4 ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ as a lawn food. It is high in potassium and phosphorus which helps to harden the grass and build a strong root system.
- Re-cut all edges for a crisp clean appearance.
- Check for water logging, as this condition can be rectified now.
#3 IN THE GARDEN
- Remove fallen leaves from lawns, borders, and ponds.
- Raise containers by using ‘pot feet’ to prevent water logging.
- Improve clay soils by incorporating organic matter like composted mulch and barnyard manure.
- Move trees and shrubs that are growing in unsuitable/undesirable places. If they have been growing for several years be sure to remove a large enough root ball to avoid root disturbance.
- Protect not-so-hardy plants with protective mulch.
- Deer, rabbits, and squirrels can be a problem in winter months. Use tree guards to prevent bark from being gnawed.
- Remove the last of spent crops, then clean and disinfect the greenhouse.
- In addition to a heater, insulation may be needed to keep the structure frost-free.
- Regularly inspect plants for pests and diseases.
- Invest in Max/Min thermometer for accurate monitoring of temperatures.
- Don’t forget that ventilation may be required during warm autumn days.
- To discourage fungal diseases, try not to wet leaves when watering.
- Remove faded flowers, yellowing and dead leaves to prevent the development of diseases within the greenhouse.
#5 VEGETABLE GARDEN
- Stake any Brussels sprouts stalks that are leggy and vulnerable to the wind.
- Remove plant debris to help prevent the spread of disease.
- Turnover vacant areas and add organic mulch and manure to prepare the soil for planting next year.
- Parsnips can be left in the ground until needed.
- Prune grape vines, and apple, pear, and quince trees.
- Continue to harvest turnips, swedes, parsnips, celery, Brussels sprouts, and beetroot.
- Regularly check stored apples and persimmons.
- Plant new fruit trees
- Prune autumn raspberries.
- Prune red and white currants and gooseberries.
- Tie up new tiers on espaliers.
#6 WILDLIFE & BIRD CARE
- Hummingbird feeders should be left out as long as birds are active.
- Refill bird feeders. All foods, including peanuts, are safe as the breeding season is ended.
- Clean out birdbaths and bird feeders.
- Keep birdbaths topped off and free of ice.
- Make a leaf pile for hibernating mammals and ground-feeding birds.
- Dig a wildlife pond.
#7 Odds & Ends
- The 2017 seeds have arrived at the garden center, so it’s time to look through catalogs, plan gardens, and order seeds for next season.
- Place fallen leaves on the compost pile for rotting down into leaf mold. Shredding or mowing the leaves will help speed up the composting process.
- Dig new garden spaces for next year; this will expose pest larvae and eggs to birds and frost.
- Make sure all winter protection is in place to help plants should the worst possible winter weather become a reality.
Until next issue, I’ll see you at Watters Garden Center.