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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


Nov. 2012 To Do Lists: Zones 1-2

Susan Wells
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November 2012 To Do Lists: Zones 1 & 2

Not sure which zone you live in? Click this map to expand.

As mentioned last month: Rather than using salt to thaw pathways near planted beds, consider using urea or other fertilizers. This will be helpful to plants in the spring. Remember that fertilizers contain salts, so use mindfully. Gravel, sand, kitty litter and other inert material can also be helpful when mixed as an additive with the fertilizer. Read on for more of our November 2012 to do lists for zones 1 & 2.

  • High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lamps have traditionally been used for plant, flower and fruit production in greenhouses and homes. They have been designed with enough violet, blue, and green spectrum to be used as the light source throughout all phases of plant production. The correct HPS lamps and plant lights can be used as your primary light source, helping get a jump start on the growing season and helping maintain happy house plants. The length of time the light stays on may be controlled by an electric timer.
  • Winter is a great time to assess your tool situation and see what you might be missing. Visit this link for a guide to buying pruners. Also, here is a brief review of the tool options available for pruning at your local Home Depot. We all know that the correct tools make every job easier. Depending on plant type, branch diameter and height, you will need one or all of the following: hand pruners, loppers, pole pruners, pruning saws, chain saws and hedge shears.


November 2012 To Do Lists: Zones 1 & 2

This Fiskars 4-3/4″ Bypass Pruner, designed for right- or left-handed use, has a loop handle to make lawn work easier.

Hand pruners can be ‘anvil’ or ‘bypass.’ Anvil pruners have a sharp blade that cuts against a flat anvil and are ideal for cutting small to medium size dead limbs and dry branches.  Bypass pruners have a scissors-type action with curved blades that make cleaner cuts than anvil pruners. These are good for precision cutting around buds and tender areas on the plant and for “green” and growing limbs. They are also well-suited for thinning out hedges.

Loppers are long-handled hand pruners with either bypass or anvil action. They work well when you need a little more reach and leverage, and they’re good for cutting thicker branches (usually up to 2″ in diameter). In recent years, tool manufacturers have been thoughtful enough to make ‘telescoping’ handles, which allow the user to adjust the handles for an extended reach. The downside of this is added weight to the tool. Some loppers also have a ratcheting feature that makes cutting through thick green branches easier.


Pole pruners, also called tree pruners, are ideal for high, overhead cutting without the need for a ladder. They use a rope and pulley system to make cuts to upper-level branches in a tree’s canopy while you stay on the ground. Pruning saws are used for larger branches that pruner or lopper blades can’t navigate. Pruning saw blades can be curved or straight. (I prefer using a ‘cross-cut’ saw. It cuts in both a forward and reversed direction.) The more teeth the blade contains, the more precise the cut will be. Large-toothed saws should be used for the largest limbs. Bow saws are good for making precise and fast cuts on large branches.

Chainsaws are your choice for larger, heavier branches or entire trees. Chainsaws can be gas powered or electric. (The electric chainsaws are not intended for larger limbs but can be quite hard workers. They are also significantly lighter than gas powered chainsaws and are great for pruning needs nearer the house.)  The manufacturers have been terrific in making available to the consumer market chainsaws on poles to reach overhead branches safely from the ground, to limited heights. Some of them will change out with your weed or brush-cutter heads and work off the same engine.

Practice safety at all times when using any tools, but be particularly vigilant when using a chainsaw. Wear protective eye gear.  If you are not experienced with a chainsaw but need to use one anyway, try to not work alone. When in doubt, call a professional.

Hedge shears are used to shape and trim shrubs and hedges. For large-sized hedges or to make quick work of pruning shrubbery, consider power shears. Power shears use either electricity or gas and can make the job quicker and easier. For use on a non-fruiting shrub, like a Yaupon holly or boxwood, they can give you a nice tight effect. But for a hedgerow of forsythia or loropetalum – any shrub with a naturally arching habit — you’re likely to create a ‘meatball’ effect, which is unnatural, to say the least. We suggest pruning wood the diameter of pencils with hand pruners, or loppers, for these and many other shrubs.  It will allow the hollies to continue to produce berries. Research the appropriate time of year for pruning.  It varies according to growth and bloom habits of each species.

November 2012 To Do Lists: Zones 1 & 2

Consider planting native wildflowers. This wildflower seed mix is made for the southwestern desert, but blends are available for all regions, and for areas that get sun or shade.


Flowers and Vegetables

  • Keep studying and ordering seeds for next season’s flowers and vegetables.
  • It is a good idea at this time to draw a rough sketch showing where all your plants were growing last year. This is invaluable when you are going through all those seed packets in the dead of winter.
  • While browsing for seeds, consider planting native wildflowers in 2013.
  • Consider the different kinds of sites you have. Try to gauge the sunlight in particular locations: does a spot receive full sun for many hours a day, is it shaded part of the time, or does the sun filter down through leaves to create a dappled light shade?
  • In observing your yard when some trees and shrubs are leafless, picture how much shade wildflowers will get in the summer if planted in their vicinity.
  • Also consider the soils. Are areas dry and parched, or moist and boggy? Are sites protected from the wind or exposed?
  • The amount and quality of sunlight received each day can be crucial for native plants. Wildflowers common to prairies and large, open meadows normally grow in full sun and will do best when they receive half a day or more of direct sunlight. Plants classified as savanna or open woodland species prefer growing in partial shade, with sunlight reaching the ground between trees. Woodland plants grow best in partial to full shade, beneath dappled canopy of trees.
  • Some flowers that grow in shady woods manage to get the sunlight they need by flowering early in the spring. For instance, trillium and hepatica love growing in humus-rich woodland soil, and they bloom quite early while the spring sun shines through the bare trees. Once the weather warms up and the trees leaf out, these plants enjoy growing in filtered shade. Since they can’t just pick up their roots and move, they have arranged their flowering schedule accordingly.

Other major factors to consider when looking over your property are the types of soil you have, their acidity or alkalinity as measured by soil pH, and the amount of water they retain at various times of the year. Many wildflowers will tolerate drought conditions or relatively poor soils. Yet even these tough customers, such as the black-eyed Susan, will grow taller and more vigorously if planted in richer soil. In fact, you might decide to plant black-eyed Susan in an area with relatively poor soil, simply to curb its enthusiastic nature.

November 2012 To Do Lists: Zones 1 & 2

Image by Snehit/Shutterstock.

Beautiful Black-eyed Susans tolerate even poor soils.

When studying up on wildflowers and the conditions they like, remember that the same plant often prefers different growing conditions in different regions of the country. Many species that grow well in full sun in the North perform best in partial shade when planted in areas that have long, hot summers.

Wild plants are often uniquely adapted to their growing conditions, and they frequently do not survive a move from their natural habitat to the confines of the home garden. You should not dig up a plant in the wild for your garden. The best time for transplanting or planting wildflowers is usually when they are dormant, in early spring or fall. Certain species adapt better to fall planting.

Native plants tend to be quite efficient at reproducing themselves through seed dispersal and other means. In most situations, this is a desirable trait. But some native plants take this exuberance to extremes, so it pays to do some research and try to avoid creating problems down the line. Since a plant that’s well mannered in one region can become invasive in another, it’s best to get this information from your state Extension Service Office or Natural Resources Department.

Collecting seeds of wildflowers is appropriate, so long as you harvest seeds judiciously, taking only a small sample so the existing plant colonies will be able to reproduce themselves. Today, wildflower seeds and seed mixes are widely available for sale.

Growing plants from seed is more economical than buying mature plants. The main disadvantage is that many native plants require a long time to mature or even to germinate from seed. Also, the seeds of many species need pretreatment before they can be planted. Most often this involves stratification—planting the seeds in a pot and then refrigerating them for several months until the seeds are fooled into believing that it’s time to break dormancy and germinate.

Unless you are patient and have some experience growing plants from seed, it’s probably best to start your wildflower garden by purchasing your plants. The main exception is growing a wildflower lawn or meadow, in which case you can sow mixed seeds directly on top of the ground in either the fall or spring.


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