Lyn Chimera

What to do in the garden in November & December

by cathym on November 2, 2020

OUTDOORS
It seems that gardening is never finished, but would we want it to be any different? 

Protect carrots and other root crops, such as parsnips. with straw to keep the ground around them from freezing. After mowing your lawn for the last time, have blades cleaned and sharpened now for a head start on spring. Drain and store garden hoses and turn off outside water spigots. If you haven’t cleaned your garden tools, do it now. Don’t forget to disinfect and sharpen your tools as well. Sharpened pruners, hoes and shovels make work much easier next spring.

Finish any necessary garden cleanup you still haven’t completed. Be sure to remove and discard any plant material that was diseased. Leave up perennial seed heads up to become nature’s bird feeders. Leave hollow stemmed plants to act as winter homes for overwintering insects.

You can still plant spring-flowering bulbs until the ground freezes so hurry up as time is awastin’.

If you’ve moved or planted any trees, shrubs, or perennials they will need adequate moisture. Water deeply anytime there is less than one inch of rain per week, until the soil reaches 40 degrees F.

Protect plants from winter and critter damage. Continue watering until the earth freezes. Once the soil is frozen put protective mulch over tender perennials and shrubs. Discarded pine boughs or mulched leaves make good mulches. Use burlap or shrub coats to protect susceptible shrubs from winter wind and deer damage. If you have critter problems now is the time to erect fencing and other barriers. The trunks of young trees can be wrapped with trunk wraps or chicken wire to protect them from the nibbling of mice and rabbits and rubbing by deer. Be sure the protection goes high enough so critters don’t sit on top of the snow to browse. Plan to keep off frozen grass to prevent soil compaction and poor drainage.

Erect teepees to protect foundation plants from breakage when snow and ice slip off the roof.

Keep removing weeds (burdock for example…yikes!) as long as you can see them…otherwise they will have a head start next spring!

To reduce the amount of water that broad-leafed evergreens like rhododendrons lose during the winter, you can spray the foliage with a wax-forming antidesiccant or erect barriers against the wind to prevent “windburn,” a form of desiccation.

Got outdoor fish? Use netting to prevent leaves from falling in and depleting oxygen.

Do you have grafted roses? If you didn’t mulch over the graft union get out there and do it now!

Roses can bloom well into November, but make sure to mulch above the union of grafted plants. Photo by Jane Milliman

Mound five to six inches of soil around the bases of roses to protect them from a freeze-thaw cycle which is harmful. Use soil from another part of the garden so you don’t damage the roots of your roses by digging near them.

Check stored firewood for insect infestations. Remember not to use or move firewood from out of your area to help prevent the spread of invasive insects like the Emerald Ash Borer and Spotted Lanternfly.

Have a broom ready to knock snow off plants before it freezes and causes damage.

INDOORS
Houseplants need a winter rest, too. Reduce the fertilization of most indoor plants from late October to mid-March. An exception might be plants under grow lights.

Keep your houseplants on the dry side to discourage fungus gnat larvae from devouring the roots. Watering from the bottom helps. Watch for insects or disease and take appropriate action before they spread.

Water house plants with tepid water. How would you like a cold bath?

Move most houseplants away from very cold windows to avoid damage. Begonias seem to like cool windows, though.

Continue to add kitchen plant scraps to the compost bin. 

HOLIDAY PLANTS
Be sure to remove foil or other wrapping from around the pots of plants you may receive as gifts so proper drainage can occur.

Plant amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs now. Paperwhites can go into your compost after blooming. Amaryllis flowers can be cut off after blooming is complete. Keep the plants in light and watered so the leaves can refurbish the bulb. Keep leaves growing until the leaves die down on their own. They will begin regrowth when they are ready to bloom again.

Select poinsettias with green leaves and colorful bracts. Keep in bright light away from pets, children, drafts, and direct heat. 

Start cuttings of your favorite Christmas cactus (or Easter or Thanksgiving). Make a cutting with four or five joints. Let dry for about three days. Insert the basal end into a pot of dampened vermiculite. Place in a brightly lit area. Rooting should occur in three to four weeks.

When selecting a live Christmas tree, check the needles. You should be able to bend them. If they snap the tree is too dry. Try lifting the tree a few inches and bringing it down on the stump. Some inside needles may fall but outer needles should not drop off. Make a fresh cut across the base of the trunk to prevent the formation of a seal which prevents the tree from taking up water, and immediately place it in water. If you plan to have a live tree for the holidays, dig the hole for the tree now before the ground freezes. It’s best to only keep the potted tree inside for one week then plant it outside.

MISCELLANEOUS
Feed the birds sunflower and black nyjer seeds. Be sure to keep feeders clean and dry to promote bird health rather than bird disease.

Use hairspray on seed heads and dried flowers in wreaths or other displays.

Give gardening hints to family and friends so they buy you gardening gifts (or buy them for both friends and yourself). Ideas: books, clippers, butterfly kits, mason bee homes, terrariums, orchids, perhaps beekeeping equipment.

Purchase gifts at local nurseries and garden-related not-for-profits like the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Give others as well as yourself memberships in the Botanical Gardens, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Xerces, or Reinstein Woods.

—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County

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Rhododendron

THE GARDEN
We gardeners have been waiting for spring. However, during May, PATIENCE is the rule. A common problem is planting too soon. If the soil is too cold or wet seeds may rot and roots may stop growing. 

Soil temperature should be above 50 F. If soil feels cold in your hand, it’s too cold for plants! Try making a ball with a handful of soil. Does it crumble? Great. Does it form a ball? It’s too wet.

Purchase compact, healthy plants with unopened buds that are appropriate for your gardens. Read plant tags and note the final height and width. Are they appropriate for your space? Mix compost, or other organic materials into the soil before planting. Mulch lightly around the new plants.

Planting holes should be a deep as the root mass and twice as wide. Be sure to spread or “spider” the roots to encourage root growth into the soil instead of circling, self-strangling roots which can lead to disaster.

Leave bulb foliage intact until it yellows and wilts, but remove spent flowers to prevent seed formation. The foliage is required to give bulbs the food necessary to form next year’s blooms. Spring bulbs can be moved or divided as soon as the foliage dies. Do the same for bearded irises so the energy goes into the rhizomes. Divide Virginia bluebells, bloodroot, trilliums, and other spring ephemerals when the leaves turn yellow and before they disappear from sight. 

Weeding never ends. Mulching helps. Plant warm-season annuals by mid-June, before it gets too hot for them to establish good roots. These include cosmos, marigolds, begonias, torenias, petunias, ageratum, and cleome.

Check for signs of insects (chewed leaves, puncture wounds, sticky substances, trails in leaves) or disease (yellow leaves, stunted growth, signs of fungi). Be sure to look on both sides of the leaves before buying any plant. Don’t forget to check for healthy roots. Slug control can start as soon as you can get into the garden. Take a look on top and under the leaves of tomato, potato, pepper, and eggplants for hornworm eggs (only one-tenth of an inch in diameter). Yellow trails in columbine leaves are caused by leaf miners, the larva of a genus of fly. This is more of an aesthetic problem … you don’t have to do anything OR you can remove the affected leaves.

Buy yourself at least one new plant! Consider some native plant species to help pollinators and to feed young birds. Keep newly planted trees, shrubs, vegetables, perennials, and flowers well-watered (about one inch per week.)

Try deer repellants or consider deer resistant plants. Check the Cornell website for a great deer resistant plant list. 

Cut back spring-flowering perennials such as pulmonaria and perennial geraniums after they bloom to encourage reblooming and/or growth of new foliage. Deadhead perennials and annuals to prevent seed formation and to encourage new growth and more flowers.

At the end of June, cut back perennials such as phlox, beebalm, sedum, aster, and goldenrod by one-third to one-half to control height or delay flowering. This is known as the Chelsea Chop.

Place supports over taller flowering plants so the plants can grow up through them without damage to foliage and flowers later in the season.

Spring-blooming shrubs like weigela, forsythias, and spirea can be pruned back after blooming. Cut about one-third of the oldest stems to the ground for renovation.

If growing azaleas and/or rhododendrons in higher pH soil be sure to add acidifying agents. However, don’t disturb the roots.

THE LAWN
Mow lawn at least three inches high. This encourages deeper, healthier root growth. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to return nutrients to the soil.

The first application of lawn fertilizer, if needed, can be put down around Memorial Day. If fertilizer was applied in the fall a spring application is not necessary. A quarter to a half inch top dressing of compost adds nutrients, feeds soil microbes, and improves the water-holding capacity of the soil. 

For optimal pre-emergent crabgrass control, do not apply until soil is close to 60 degrees. Crabgrass doesn’t germinate until the soil temperature 2 inches deep is between 60 & 64 degrees. Applying when the ground is too cold is a waste of money and chemicals.

VEGETABLES
Check the Cornell recommended vegetable list for suggested and disease resistant varieties. vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu

Plant your brassicas now: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and summer cabbage. Reseed bush beans every few weeks to increase production.

Plant your tomatoes, eggplant, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, and peppers when the ground is warm to promote root growth. Usually this time comes closer to the end of May.

After direct-sowing seeds, be sure to thin the seedlings to prevent crowding and competition for light, water, and fertilizer. If plants were grown from seed be sure to harden them off before planting them in the garden.

—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County


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by Michelle Sutton

Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera have been frequent almanac co-writers in Upstate Gardeners’ Journal since 2008. Each lives in Erie County.

“The lupines are a mixture of some I grew indoors from seed anad two I received as presents. Baby lupines are adorable! I was afraid I would step on them or weed them out, so I put metal cloches over them until they got bigger. I know they are a short-lived perennial, so one day I will have to repeat the process.” Photo by Carol Ann Harlos

Did you grow up gardening with family? If not, when did it grab you?

Harlos: I had no interest in gardening when I was growing up. However, when I majored in in biology in college, that opened my eyes to the plant world. I taught biology for five years before taking time off for my children. That’s when the gardening bug really got hold of me. I did projects with our three daughters, growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers. I was hooked!

Chimera: My family had two conservation farms growing up, so I developed an appreciation for nature, which led to my interest in native plants. Our family gardening was planting trees and putting in ponds for wildlife, although we always had a few tomato plants and my mother loved her small perennial garden. Gardening really grabbed me when I was married and had a place of my own. I was struggling to be successful and learning through my mistakes as we all do.

How did you meet each other and become co-writers of the UGJ almanac?

Chimera: Carol Ann was my mentor when I first became a Master Gardener in 2005. We were Hotline partners; I learned so much from her and still do. We share a love of nature, insects, and learning. She also encouraged me to write, which I had always wanted to do but was afraid to try. For the almanac, generally I do a draft and then Carol Ann adds to it and we work it out together over email.

Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) in Chimera’s garden. Photo by Lyn Chimera

How has UGJ influenced you over the years?

Harlos: I’ve been reading UGJ for a long time. I frequently take copies of the magazine with me when I give talks because the information is timely, entertaining, and informative.

Chimera: Like many people, I picked up the first issue free at some gardening event. I was impressed with the quality of the information and the fact that it was local. It was the first garden magazine I subscribed to and honestly I can’t even remember how long ago it was. Over the years I have learned to rely on it to keep abreast of what is happening in our region.

What other publications do you write for?

Harlos: I write a monthly column for Forever Young, which is Western New York’s oldest and only full-color senior publication, with both print (40,000 copies a month) and online editions. [You can see several dozen of Carol Ann’s Forever Young columns by searching her name at buffalospree.com.] I’m also a frequent contributor to The Herbarist and The Essential Herbal magazines; Iwrite a monthly newsletter for Herb Gardeners of the Niagara Frontier; and I’m the editor and a writer for the monthly Erie County Master Gardener News. One of these days I hope to compile my writings into a book.

Chimera: In addition to UGJ, I write for After 50, Figure 8 (the Federated Garden Club publication), the Erie County Master Gardener News, and monthly garden tips for clients and people on my mailing list.

Snapshot from Chimera’s garden. Photo by Lyn Chimera

Apart from writing, what do you enjoy doing most?

Harlos: I love, love to teach! I am a backyard beekeeper and do many talks on bees as well as herbs, insects, plant diseases, autumn gardening, bulbs, downsizing the garden, living with deer, garden botany, garden Rx, garden ideas for the classroom, houseplants, hydrangeas, making more plants, pollinator gardens, and tillandsias. I love giving talks (not lectures!) because there is so much joy interacting with people. I have a great time and so do my audiences. I go anywhere I am asked because it is so much fun. I have given talks out-of-state several times.

Chimera: After retiring from teaching I became a Master Gardener (MG). Working the Hotline was and still is my favorite part of being an MG. In doing that, I saw how many people had garden-related questions and just needed some guidance, so I started a garden consulting business called Lessons from Nature (lessonsfromnature.biz). Basically, I make house calls and coach folks on everything from groundcover and weed ID to pruning, always stressing an ecological approach … helping people realize gardening is a natural process, not a battle.

Another part of my business is giving presentations to groups, which I love. Once a teacher always a teacher. I specialize in native plants and ecological and sustainable approaches to gardening but have more than twenty topics and am always developing new ones based on requests. I also teach for MG programs and present at Plantasia and other gardening events, usually within the WNY area.

In your own gardens, what are your passions and priorities?

Harlos: I am a generalist. I want to grow everything, so I end up planting vegetables in between perennials and annuals. I love working in the garden and hearing and seeing honeybees (which I swear are mine) and other pollinators buzzing about and going from flower to flower. I also feed birds (nine feeders).

Chimera: My goal in gardening is always supporting nature. I have more than 100 varieties of native plants in my little half-acre village lot. However, I have many nonnatives that are productive as well, so I’m not a total natives snob. Not using pesticides or herbicides is one of the best and easiest ways we can help nature. My gardens have been chemical-free for about twenty-five years—and the results are amazing.

What are your favorite horticulture resources?  

Harlos: I favor the writings of Sally Cunningham, who taught me and encouraged me to give talks. I love A Garden of Marvels by Ruth Kassinger, The Secret Life of Plants by Tompkins and Bird, and Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William Harlow, my go-to book for identification since college.

Chimera: Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy was a real eye-opener for me as to the importance of planting to support beneficial insects, the basis of the food chain for birds and other creatures.

Another favorite is The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. You will never look at a tree in the same way again after reading this book.

Harlos’s garden in the fall, including fruitful crabapple tree in background, rose bush, pineapple sage, dahlias, papyrus, and more. Photo by Carol Ann Harlos

Who are your favorite local, regional, national, or international horticulture personalities?

Harlos: Sally Cunningham, Jane L. Taylor, Eleanor Perenyi, Fredrick Law Olmsted, and Tracy DiSabato-Aust.

Chimera: Locally, Sally Cunningham has been a mentor and does so much to educate the public about gardening and good horticultural practices. On a national level, Doug Tallamy is always wonderful.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Harlos: I also love growing indoor plants, plant propagation, seed starting, growing orchids (I have only fifteen to date), and hydroponics (aerogardens).

Chimera: I have enjoyed writing the almanac for UGJ. It keeps me on my toes and makes me more aware of what I should be doing when.

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.

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