There’s nothing like a snowy New England nor’easter to get me in the mood to go through all of the seed catalogs that have been coming in the mail. Most of the vegetable seeds I purchase are the time-tested and reliable varieties that I have grown for many years, however I am often tempted to try the newer offerings that promise higher yields, better flavor or disease resistance. It’s a long process, pouring through several catalogs and comparing each type of vegetable I grow, but one that I thoroughly enjoy. But before I place any orders, I do a germination test on last year’s leftover seeds to check their viability.
I place a dozen or so seeds between two sheets of moistened paper towels and place it in a into a baggie. The baggie then goes on top of my pie safe near the woodstove where the warmth will speed up the germination process. I check up on them every other day and when no more seeds germinate, I tally up the sprouted seeds. If the germination is less than 75 percent, it’s time for me to buy more of that seed.
Holiday potted plants are not usually that long-lived. Insufficient sunlight, cold drafts, low humidity and overwatering / under watering are all conditions that lead to an early demise. There are certain steps, however, that you can take in order to enjoy their beauty a bit longer. Either remove the decorative foil or pot cover from the pots or punch holes through the covering to allow water to drain properly. Keep the soil evenly moist and protect your plants from cold drafts. Situate the plants in a room that gets as much sunlight as possible…usually a south or west facing room. Also, most plants appreciate a humidity tray.
Fill a large saucer with pebbles and place the potted plant on top. Any water that drains into the saucer after watering will create a moist environment for the plant as it evaporates. This also prevents root rot because the plants roots are not sitting in water. Remove faded flowers and their stems as soon as possible to encourage the plant to keep blooming and look tidy.
Check your stored bulbs (cannas, dahlias, gladioli, tuberous begonias) to see if they’ve begun to shrivel and are too dry. In late Fall, I either store my bulbs in barely moist peat moss or crumpled newspaper. Now, slightly rewetting either will help to stop the loss of water from the tuber.
Try to avoid salt-based de-icing products in or around garden as it is toxic to most plants. Using stone dust, sawdust, sand or cat litter instead will not only prevent damage to your plants but also your pets paws.
Don’t waste your beautiful tree by taking it to the transfer station! Evergreen boughs from garland, swags and wreaths or your Christmas tree can be used as winter protection on garden beds. After the holidays, I put my tree outside and secure it to a wooden stake near the birdfeeders. This offers the feeding birds protection from wind, weather and predators. You can also decorate it with popcorn garland or bird seed & suet ornaments for winter birds. Remember to continue to supply fresh water for the birds.
Mold spores are present in all soil and when the soil stays too wet, the spores will germinate and mold starts to grow. I’ve had this issue in the past, especially in the wintertime. Winter conditions in my home were the perfect storm for this situation until I took some action. I used to have my plants in the living room that faces northeast (too dark in winter) and where the humidifier is going 24-7 (too much moist air). Now, I move them to my back office in the winter (south facing = direct sun) and it is drier because I have the space heater going. The space heater helps with warm air movement and the soil dries out faster. I also started to bottom-water my plants in winter so that the top portion of the soil (where there are fewer roots to draw water away) doesn’t get wet. Lastly, I only water my plants when the soil surface is dry and there is no moisture whatsoever. You can also scrape the mold off of the soil surface and replace it with a ½ “ of clean sand which will not hold moisture. Do the scraping outside or in a garage because the spores will become airborne and can settle on unaffected plants. I’ve read that you can also lightly spray the soil surface with a 10% vinegar solution. Spray once in between waterings and wait a few days after spraying so that the vinegar has a chance to kill the mold.
I hope this helps if you have any issues with mold!
After the ground freezes hard, I mulch perennial and bulb planting beds. The mulch will prevent heaving during the alternate freeze and thaw cycle. Apply 2 to 4 inches of shredded bark mulch, Dark Harbor enriching mulch, Schoodic composted manure or Cobscook garden compost, if not done already. Consider covering your strawberry patch with evergreen boughs or straw.
Early winter’s wet and heavy snowstorms can wreak havoc with ornamental shrubs. Secure the limbs of upright evergreens by encircling the plant in a spiral fashion with twine from bottom to top. This will stop heavy snow from pulling the branches down and prevent breakage by snow or ice. Other evergreens (pieris, rhododendron, azalea, holly, boxwood etc.) will also be affected by heavy snows. Remove snow loads from their branches by gently sweeping snow off with a broom. Avoid hitting tree branches with any heavy tools as this will injure the bark and cause breakage of branches and leaves. If there is any ice accumulation on the branches, allow it to melt.
This is my favorite winter task! Having the luxury of enjoying organically grown greens from the garden during the gardening season is always a treat. When freezing temperatures put my gardens to bed, I simply move my growing efforts inside. Cool-weather crops like loose-leaf lettuce, chives, arugula, mesclun mixes and parsley are easily started from seeds. I fill several 3 foot long window boxes that contain a 50-50 mix of Bar Harbor Potting Soil and Quoddy Lobster Compost and some Lobster and Kelp fertilizer.
I avoid using soil from the garden which can harbor insects and / or disease. Next, I scatter the seeds over the soil, distributing evenly a few inches apart, and then sprinkle a thin layer of the Potting Soil on top to cover the seeds lightly. Finally, I mist the potting mix with a spray bottle until the soil is evenly moist, cover the window boxes with plastic wrap and place them in a warm (65° – 70° is good), brightly lit spot. Within 1 – 2 weeks, the seeds germinate and the plastic cover is discarded. After 2 more weeks, the plants are thinned and I move the operation into my basement. The cooler temperatures there (55° – 65°) prevent the greens from getting leggy and weak. The boxes are put onto a 3 foot wide metal shelving unit that has shop lights suspended above each level. I use S-hooks and chains to keep the 40 watt fluorescent light bulbs always a few inches above the growing plants. A timer ensures that the plants will receive 14 hours of light per day. For seedlings, it’s best to water, with tepid water, from the bottom using a watering tray. This helps to prevent fungal diseases such as damping off. I start harvesting the greens when the plants are about 4-5 inches tall cutting them with a scissors about one inch above the soil. This cut-and-come-again method allows the greens to grow back again for additional harvests (with the herbs, I just snip of what I need). After a few harvests, the greens will lose their vigor so I repeat the sowing process in order to have a continual salad supply throughout the winter.
After purchasing holiday plants such as poinsettias, cyclamen and Christmas cactus, be sure they are completely covered with paper wrap and then quickly take them to your car. Avoid leaving your plants in the car while you finish shopping; they will probably freeze. Once home, place your holiday plants in bright light, away from drafts, and keep the soil evenly moist. I take of the foil and / or pot covers so the bottom roots can get air and not become water-logged. Since most holiday plants are short lived, I try to purchase mine within a week before the Holiday so that they still look fresh.
Speaking of holidays, all of those hot, humid summer days spent in the kitchen boiling canning jars for hours on end are now paying off! Homegrown canned goods make wonderful holiday gifts…and who doesn’t appreciate gifts from the garden? This year, family and friends will receive jars of spiced beets, bread & butter pickles, salsa, blueberry jam, strawberry sauce and lemon verbena liquor. It’s so heartwarming to be able to share decades-old recipes with family and keep the tradition alive!
Plant Amaryllis bulbs for cheery winter color. They will grow quickly and produce large, beautiful blooms, usually in 6 to 8 weeks. Pot up new amaryllis bulbs in wide, squat containers using Bar Harbor Potting Soil. Allow the top inch of the bulb to remain above soil level; water well once and then allow soil to dry out before watering again. Keep the pot in a bright room away from drafts and heating vents. As the stalk grows, rotate the pot for even growth.
Trees get sunburned too! Sunscald most often occurs on the southwest side of young trees with thin bark. On a warm winter day, the direct sun can heat exposed bark considerably. If this heating is followed by freezing temperatures, injury to the inner bark may occur. The injury is usually not visible until spring growth resumes, and then it will appear as sunken area of discolored bark. The bark may then split or fall off in patches. Wrapping the trunks trees with a commercial tree wrap made of insulating paper now can prevent sunscald. Wrap the lower trunks of young, thinly barked trees (such as maples, flowering cherry, aspen, ash) with paper tree wrap now and remember to remove the wrap in early April. Wrap newly planted trees every winter for 2-3 years until the outer bark has had a chance to thicken.
Deer in winter will eat just about anything so please realize what “deer-resistant” plants vs. “deer-proof” plants really means. There are no guarantees in a harsh winter with abundant snowfall and little to no acorn crop. You’ll need to protect your shrubs now from deer by spraying them with deer repellant or by covering them with either burlap or 1″ mesh netting.
Keep bird feeders filled throughout winter. Ground-feeding birds (juncos, white-throated sparrows, finches, cardinals, mourning doves, etc.) suffer in winters with long-lasting snow cover. In the world of bird seed, you really do get what you pay for. Stay away from low cost seed mixes that contain filler seed (i.e. red millet) that often are not eaten and go to waste. Higher quality blends contain a high percent of sunflower seed (black oil is better than striped because of its’ high fat content), white proso millet, cracked corn, peanuts and safflower seed.
Suet cakes are inexpensive and are a very high-energy food that is often fed to insect-eating birds in winter when their favorite bugs are hard to find. It will attract many new species of birds that don’t eat the seed in your regular feeders (like overwintering bluebirds, mockingbirds, Carolina wrens and robins). Last winter, we had an immature oriole that delayed migrating until mid-winter. Without the suet we provided, his food source options at that time were almost non-existent.
Lastly, birds need water to stay hydrated. During times of sub-freezing weather it’s beneficial to maintain a supply of water for birds. Small immersible heating coils can be used in stone birdbaths to prevent water from freezing. These heaters will prevent most ice from forming. You can also purchase heated bird baths that work even better than the heating coils. Just fill the bath with clean, fresh water, and enjoy the birds that appreciate the drink!
Cut branches of evergreens, berried shrubs and ornamental grasses to spruce up your window boxes and add to your holiday decorating inside and out. I also trim some dormant flower heads off of my Pieris for a nice accent.
It’s still not too late to plant Spring bulbs! As long as the ground is not frozen, you can get a head start on early Spring color. A handful of our Penobscot Complete Planting Mix worked into each planting hole will give the bulbs a great head start next Spring! Each year, bulb growers focus on breeding new varieties of daffodils, tulips crocus, hyacinths and more. Be sure to try something new!
Every year at this time, I walk through my property with pen and pad in hand and jot down some wrap-up notes from this years’ growing season. What perennials need dividing, which annuals did well that I want to purchase more of, yields and disease resistance of the new varieties of vegetables I grew this year, crop rotation notes, on and on. This activity not only gives me a to-do list in March, but it offers guidance when shopping at Garden Centers.
Cut back the last of your perennials after several killing frosts cause the foliage to die back. I like to leave the ornamental grasses throughout the winter. They add beauty to the landscape and offer nutritious seed heads for wild birds.
I save the chipped leaves and grass that the mower picks up and bags. After the ground is frozen, I pile them around any perennials , shrubs or trees I’ve planted in the Fall. If I feel that any of the transplants need a nutrient boost in the Spring, I first put down Fundy Blend enriching mulch. Both of these mulches insulate the ground and keeps it frozen during possible mid-winter thaws, thus preventing the root ball from being heaved out of the ground. I stockpile the additional grass / leaf mulch that is leftover until Spring and use this to topdress my gardens after I’m done with Spring planting. You can also start a compost pile with this mulch!
Cut asparagus foliage to the ground after the tops turn brown. I leave mine up a little later in the month to give the birds a chance to eat the bright red berries. You can also collect and dry the berries to start new plants in the Spring. A topdress of Schoodic Cow Manure compost will ensure that these heavy feeders will get off to a great start next Spring!
Dig up tuberous dahlias and begonias, cannas and gladioli. Trim away the dried leaves and stalks, brush off the soil, place them in a paper bag filled with dry peat moss and store the tubers in a cool dry place until spring and warmer weather.
Harvest the rest of your root vegetables. After washing off the soil, store them in a cool, dry and dark place. I put carrots, potatoes and beets in the coolest part of my basement where the temperature stays at 45 – 50°.
Trim your perennial herbs and make small bunches for drying indoors. Sage, tarragon, oregano and thyme can be used for cooking savory winter meals!
Now is a great time for improving the soil in your vegetable and flower beds. Topdress with Quoddy Lobster Compost, manure, and / or chopped leaves to increase the organic matter content. Conditioning the soil in this manner will offer nutrients to the beneficial microbes in the soil that will ingest this material and, in turn, fertilize the soil. Before adding lime to your soil, have your soil tested to determine if your soil is acidic and needs lime.
When all of your gardening chores are done for the winter, it’s time to give some much needed attention to your garden tools. Bring all your gardening tools inside and use a wire brush to clean the soil off and then remove any rust using sandpaper. Finally, sharpen any that need it and wipe mineral oil on the metal to prevent rust.
Dig up any tender plants that you want to bring in for winter color (geraniums) or culinary use (rosemary) before a killing freeze. Bar Harbor Potting mix provides the right amount of nutrients and drainage for indoor growing.