December 2012 To Do List: Zone 4

Susan Wells
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November 2012 To Do Lists: Zone 8

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Make sure you’ve raked or mulched (by running over with a lawnmower) the leaves off your lawn before snow falls too deeply to get at them. Otherwise the leaves will smother the grass when the spring sun comes back out. Bring evergreen trimmings into the house to use as holiday decorations, but make sure not to cut more than about five percent of any one plant or you will damage it. Leave snow on evergreen branches. They are supple and will bend. If you try to remove snow, they may break.

Perennials/Annuals/Houseplants

On a warm day, trim back and mulch perennials.

While the soil is moist and pulling is easy, remove any ground cover that’s crowding perennials and shrubs and creeping into tree pits.

If you grew cannas in containers, be sure to store the whole container in a cool basement where temperatures are between 45 and 50 degrees F as they will not overwinter outdoors.

Inspect bulbs you have stored in the basement. Remove any that show signs of rotting and mold growth. If the storage medium is dry, lightly moisten it with a spray bottle filled with warm water. Keep planting bulbs outdoors as long as the soil can be worked. Forcing bulbs can brighten up the dreary winter days by bringing color indoors.

Poinsettias do best in a sunny window with an indoor temperature of 60 to 70 degrees. Avoid temperature fluctuations and areas where there are warm or cold drafts. Don’t fertilize the poinsettia when the plant is in bloom. One of the biggest mistakes we make with poinsettias is overwatering. They are prone to root rot if the pot sits in a saucer full of water or if water is caught by the colorful foil.

Look for drying and browning of edges of houseplant leaves that can indicate too little humidity. If plants are suffering in dry heated indoor air, group pots together to increase humidity, set pots on a tray of pebbles filled to half their depth with water, or set up a humidifier nearby.

The leaves of indoor plants get dusty, which can interfere with photosynthesis and transpiration, and provide insects a place to hide. Give smaller plants a rinse with the sprayer at the kitchen sink. Larger plants can be set in the shower. The leaves of large-foliaged plants can be wiped off individually with a soft cloth dipped in a solution of a few drops of mild dish detergent in a quart of tepid water, then rinsed with clear water. Be sure to wash off both sides of the leaves.

Vegetables

Sow seeds of basil, cilantro, and dill indoors every two weeks for a steady supply of fresh herbs. Clip rosemary regularly so it will put out side branches. The new growth is the tastiest.

Most home compost bins do not get hot enough to kill weed seeds or disease organisms, so instead of composting, bury the diseased foliage and stems far from the garden. You will return the organic matter to the soil, but not give the disease-causing spores a chance to re-infect your plants next year.

Trees/Shrubs

Tree Gators make watering newly planted and young trees more convenient. They wrap around the trunk and when you fill them, the water seeps through holes at the bottom. It’s time to remove them for winter so rain and snow can directly reach the soil. Examine the tree for rot, insect boring, moisture, or damage of any kind.

While you’re raking, gather fallen pine needles and toss them under acid-loving shrubs, trees and perennials, including blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, hollies, white birch, magnolia, camellias, raspberries, and hydrangeas (if you want blue flowers).

Rake up dead, mushy hydrangea leaves since they can harbor fungus and scales. Put them in disposable paper bags for your community’s yard debris program that uses high-temperature composting.

Rose bushes and perennial flowers in exposed locations should be mulched with a few inches of coarse homemade compost, shredded leaves, clean straw, shredded cedar chips, or humus-rich garden soil now that the soil has started to freeze. Frost heave is a common problem, especially during winter temperature fluctuations.

Water your living Christmas trees with ice cubes, but don’t leave it indoors for more than a week.  Then plant it in the hole you dug last month.

Do not try to remove wet heavy snow from evergreens; you could do more harm than good. Evergreen limbs remain supple through winter and will bend under the weight, but usually will not crack.

Recycle evergreen tree trimmings by placing them around the bottoms of azaleas and rhododendrons. This will help to buffer extreme temperature fluctuations and winter sun damage.

Lawn/Turf

Continue to rake heavy accumulations of leaves on the lawn to prevent suffocation of the grass crowns. You can also run the lawn mower over the lawn with a grass catcher, then put the shredded leaves in the compost bin or directly into the garden soil.

Before the ground freezes hard, set up markers along the edges of lawns and gardens to serve as guides and prevent damage when plowing and blowing snow. Erect screens of burlap if necessary to protect plants, especially evergreens, from forceful blasts of snow from the snow blower.

Avoid salt and de-icers for your steps, walks and driveway. Use sand mixed with a little organic fertilizer instead.

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