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.