For holiday flowers and fragrance, force blooms of paperwhite narcissus. Start by choosing large, firm bulbs with no soft spots. Place the bulbs in water, pointed-ends up, with the base of the bulbs 1/4″ above the water, or grow them in soil or gravel, covering 1/2 to 3/4 of the bulbs. Keep the bulbs in a cool, dark location for 2 to 3 weeks. Bring them into a warm room when they show 4-6″ of growth or, if they’re growing in water, when you see that plenty of roots have formed. Refill the water as needed to keep the roots covered, but don’t let it touch the base of the bulbs. The flowers should open in 4-6 weeks.
- To coax flowers from a pre-packaged amaryllis, simply open the box, water, and place the bulb in a warm room. Avoid keeping your amaryllis close to heat vents or drafty windows and doors.
- Poinsettias do best in a sunny window where the air temperature ranges from 60 to 70 degrees F. When you water them, remove any wrapping on the pot and let excess water drain away.
- Brown edges on the leaves of houseplants usually mean your house is too dry. Group plants together to help increase humidity, or put them on a tray filled with pebbles and a little water. Keep the bottoms of the pots out of the water.
- Are kudzu bugs invading your home? These pests eat kudzu, an invasive vine, which is a good thing. What’s bad is that they also dine on soybeans and other kinds of legumes, and they infiltrate our homes to find warmth when the weather is cold. Try not to smash them when you find them indoors. They leave stains and give off a foul smell. Keep them from entering in the first place by sealing gaps with caulk or wire screen.
- Use row cover topped with several inches of straw to protect spinach and other crops overwintering in the garden.
- Sow seeds of basil, cilantro, and dill indoors every two weeks for a steady supply of fresh herbs. Build an herb rack for your kitchen, so you’ll have fresh sprigs for dips and sauces.
- Water your living Christmas tree with ice cubes, and try not to keep it indoors for more than a week.
- For sweeter carrots, store them in the garden over the winter. Stack layers of straw around them to prevent the soil from freezing. Pull and dig as much as you need when you’re ready.
- When night temperatures are regularly in the 20s, cover hybrid tea and grandiflora roses with a loose mix of compost and shredded leaves. Cover the plants at least 12″ high, holding the mix in place with chicken wire, if necessary.
- Keep raking leaves to prevent suffocating the grass. When the lawn is dry, run the lawn mower over it with a grass catcher, then dump the shredded leaves into the compost bin or directly over the garden.
Paperwhites: Shutterstock/Cheryl Casey