Prune During Dormant Season
The dormant season (November through mid-March) is an ideal time to prune most plants. I do at least a third of my pruning business during these 4 months. Spring-flowering shrubs, such as Rhododendron, Azalea, Pieris, Lilac, Forsythia, etc have already set their flower buds. Wait until after bloom to prune them. Fruit trees and other deciduous plants are easier to prune when the leaves are not present. Check the how to guide on this web site for information on how to prune specific kinds of plants.
As weather gets less attractive for outdoor gardening, I like to increase my indoor gardening. I enjoy colorful flowering potted plants, especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday period.
The chrysanthemum is one of the most rewarding potted flowers. They usually bloom for a month or longer. Pick plants which have some buds which are just starting to open for longer bloom. Mums come in many fall colors which are perfect for this time of year. Yellow, Bronze and Bronzy Red are some of the most appropriate. But if you like white, lavender, and pink shades, those are also available. They also come in a variety of flower types included spider shaped blooms and spoon-like petals.
Another favorite of mine is Kalanchoe, which comes in bright shades of red, orange, yellow and pink. They also bloom for several weeks. Cyclamen, in shades of pink, red and white will also bloom for a long time if you pick plants with unopened buds, often hidden down among the leaves.
Of course poinsettias will be available in stores by mid-November. The new, long lasting varieties will stay in bloom for 6 weeks or longer if cared for properly. I like to use several plants in a variety of colors and flower types for holiday decoration. Four or more plants of the same kind will make an attractive, tree-like display if you put the center plant on an inverted bowl. Potted azaleas also come in bright Christmas colors.
When potted plants are moved from a bright, sunny greenhouse to a home situation, they use less water, and can be over watered because of water collecting in decorative foil pot covers. By watering plants in the sink with the foil removed, excess water will drain out the bottom. Feel the top of the soil with your finger. If it is still moist, wait another day or two until it dries on top.
Plant Bulbs Inside for Winter Bloom
Bulbs are still available in stores, many at marked-down prices. Paper white narcissus bulbs are pre-cooled and ready to be planted without any special treatment. Make sure bulbs do not have long sprouts already. Paper whites bloom in clusters of tiny, fragrant, daffodil-like flowers in either white or yellow. They are often planted in bowls or relatively shallow containers with just enough gravel or pebbles to hold them upright. They can be planted in deeper pots also. Just place the containers in a sunny area and keep them watered. They will bloom without any further treatment in about 4 to 6 weeks
Large or miniature amaryllis bulbs can be forced into bloom in large, 6 to 8 inch pots. Large amaryllis are generally planted one bulb per pot, and smaller miniatures 3 to a pot. This native South African flower has already been pre-treated and will bloom in 5 to 8 weeks after planting. If you have an amaryllis from last year, quit watering now and place it in a dark, cool place for about 6 weeks. Then it can be brought into the light and will bloom again.
Tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and grape hyacinths are best for forcing with a cold treatment. The best tulips for forcing are the triumph strain which have medium height stems. Read labels or ask for the varieties which are best for indoor flowering. Almost any daffodil can be forced into bloom. Varieties such as King Alfred, Golden Harvest, Las Vegas, and Ice Follies are some of the best. Miniature narcissus or daffodils can also be grown in pots. Hyacinths are the most fragrant of bulbs. Single bulbs can be forced in a special hyacinth glass which has a lower chamber for roots and water and an upper one for the bulb. They can also be bloomed with several bulbs planted in a pot.
Tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and grape hyacinths can all be planted in ordinary flower pots. The smaller bulbs can be grown in 4 inch pots, but the larger ones need a 6 inch or larger pot.
Fill pots with potting soil, leaving an inch or more at the top. Then place bulbs close together in the pots, but not quite touching. They should be almost completely covered with just the tips showing at the soil surface. After potting and watering so that some water drains from the bottom of the pots, place bulbs in a cool, dark place for about 12 weeks or until sprouting has started. The ideal temperature is 40 to 50 degrees, which is the normal temperature of a refrigerator. If you have an extra refrigerator for summer, now is the time to put it to use for forcing bulbs. Check pots regularly and water as needed. Use different kinds of bulbs or make multiple plantings at 3 week intervals to spread out the blooming period.
Leaves to Discard
Leaves are one of the best organic materials to compost or incorporate into the soil. However, leaves infected with fungus diseases serve as a source of re-inoculation. Roses, dogwoods, ornamental cherry trees, and Photinia are often infected with fungus leaf spot diseases in the spring. Their leaves should be carefully raked out and discarded to reduce the source of reinfection.
Living and Fresh Christmas Trees
Many Christmas trees are grown on large plantations in the Pacific Northwest and shipped to all parts of the country. In addition, we have many smaller choose and cut growers within easy driving distance of most metro areas. Cutting your own tree from one of these plantations ensures freshness. Using a water holding stand can also keep a tree fresh and soft for a month or longer.
Living Christmas trees, growing in pots, are sold in local nurseries. These trees can be planted outside after Christmas. However, remember that most tree varieties used for Christmas trees ultimately grow to a height of 50 to 80 feet. So they should be planted where they have room to grow.
Prepare Equipment and Tools for Winter
Equipment and tools should be stored in a dry place for the winter. Metal parts rust quickly when exposed to moisture. One way to give extra protection is to spray unpainted metal with WD-40. Both hand tools and tiller and mower blades can be protected. Wooden handles of tools can be wiped with linseed oil to keep them from drying and cracking. Even WD-40 is helpful, but does not penetrate wood like linseed oil.
Small engines on mowers and tillers can become clogged with shellac-like residue in the carburetor if they sit several months without being run. The best way to prevent problems is to drain fuel from the tank and run the engine until all fuel in the lines and carburetor are used. The end of November is a good time to get equipment sharpened and serviced so it is ready to go when spring comes.
Hoses should be unfastened from faucets as soon as temperatures go below freezing. Water collects in faucets connected to hoses and can freeze and break them. Insulated faucet protectors are available to place over faucets for the winter. Hoses should be drained of water and stored inside for the winter, because alternate freezing and thawing can cause them to crack.