Archive for November, 2005

When Hard Frost Threatens

* There have been enough cold nights to toughen up late garden stalwarts like parsley, kale, and chard, but even tough stuff has trouble when it goes below the mid-twenties. In some years, these things can hold on until Christmas, but it doesn’t hurt to cover your bets by covering some plants;  there’s still quite a bit of warmth in the ground. On the other hand, you can also just pick everything that’s left, give away whatever you can’t use and call it a day until March.

* The onset of cold weather is also a reminder there’s no time to lose in the window-washing department. This loathsome chore doesn’t sound very gardenly, but you’d be surprised how much light you lose when the windows are less than clean. Any houseplants that count on those windows will be very grateful you bothered and of course there will also be a little more light for you.

Waking Up the Amaryllis

* If you were on top of it and put your pots of amaryllis into dry, dark storage sometime back in late August or early September, they can be pulled out now and revived. If you were not so on top of it, file this away until it has been 2 to 3 months since you DID do the dry dark deal, the goal of which is to make them think it’s winter in South America.
Amaryllis don’t like root disturbance, so it’s better not to divide them, but they can’t bloom well if they’re choked, either. Take a deep breath, make a decision, then split apart any bulb clusters so fat they’re bursting out of the pot.

It also pays to remove the pups; just cut them off at the soil line unless you want to start an amaryllis farm. Refresh the pots: discard the top inch or so of old soil, loosen what’s underneath with a fork, then put on an inch of new soilless mix like pro-mix.

Water well – just water, don’t add any fertilizer – and put in a warm, bright spot. Then wait, resisting the impulse to water again, either until you see signs of growth or a month has passed, whichever comes first. The accepted rule is that any bulb that made 5 leaves or more last season will be strong enough to flower this time around, but as far as I can tell from my ever-growing 15 year old herd of amaryllis, this rule is complete hooey. Pixies tell amaryllis when and whether to flower, so there’s no point in getting too het up about it.

Garden Windup: Sorting Seeds, Mapping the Vegetables Looking Ahead to Forced Bulbs

* Before you put leftover seeds away, go through and discard everything more than 3 years old …unless it’s some kind of rare heirloom bean or what-all that you’re SURE you will plant next year, before the seed expires completely. Next, applying the same criterion in the rarity department, throw out all the asters, parsley, onions and delphiniums, which seldom last more than one season. Not every old seed is a dud, but in the North, the window for second tries is small, so there’s no point in risking failure unless you really have to.

* While you’re seed-sorting, supplement your notes ( if any) about how all this stuff did. Start next year’s list – catalogs are already coming in. And if you didn’t map this year’s vegetable garden; waste no time. You won’t get far with rotation planting if you forget what went where..

* If you potted up some spring bulbs to force for winter bloom, don’t forget to buy some winter rye seed now, while it’s still available. About a week after you bring the bulbs out of storage, scratch the grass seed into the soil surface. There should be a pretty green lawn around the stems by the time they bloom.

Prepare in Fall for Great Spring Peas and Lettuce

* It’s almost too much to bear when you’re right in the midst of cleaning up and looking forward – eagerly! – to not thinking about the whole thing, but now is the time to prepare a few beds for early spring planting. The soil is usually too wet to work in March and April, optimal planting time for peas and sweet peas, so it really helps if all you have to do is set stakes and plant seeds. Choose spots you can reach from paths or lawn. Clean out all the weeds and put on a good thick layer of compost.

* The “get ready now” advice started with peas because they take up the most space ( and happen to be favorites of mine) but it also applies to onions, Bibb lettuce and fava beans.

* If you have spread straw mulch over newly planted garlic, marginally hardy flower bulbs, or recently divided perennials, it’s likely the rains have rewarded you with a lawnlike crop of young oats, and that they appear to be worrysomely hardy. Worry not. Even though frost doesn’t bother them, winter cold will kill them down.