December 2020 | Volume 10, No. 11
Dear Friends,
We are so thankful to arrive at the end of the gardening season with our PBOG crew still healthy and whole! Hopefully, this finds you and your family healthy and happy after celebrating what may have been a virtual Thanksgiving this year.

In this issue, we’ll explore how to put the garden to bed for winter and point out some fun things to do outdoors in these shortest days of the year.
Early snow on white pine grove
Photo: Lee Gadway
Putting the Garden to Bed
So far, we have cut back most perennials, installed shrub protectors against falling ice and snow from roofs, put up deer fencing, and are applying anti-desiccant and deer repellents to vulnerable shrubs.
Once the ground freezes, we will be finishing up a few final garden chores:

  • Protecting tender rose crowns with cones of compost
  • Covering lavender, heaths and heathers with evergreen boughs
  • Applying salt marsh hay or sterilized straw to exposed perennial beds and to strawberry patches to prevent winter losses
Pine tree boughs laid out over heathers.
Boughs laid out over heathers
Why do we wait so long? In these long, warm falls, it takes longer for the ground to freeze. In the meantime, many small creatures such as voles and mice are looking for winter shelter. Should we put down any of the above materials too soon, it only encourages them to make a home in your garden. Plant roots will be at risk from their predation!

If you happen to see small tunnels running in your garden beds, let us know. We have an effective vole repellent that can go down even on light snow cover.

The trick will be to find that window of time between frozen ground and a lasting snow cover. In many winters, the snow cover disappears while cold temperatures remain. This is the most dangerous time for many plants. If only we knew now what kind of winter we’re going to have! My motto has always been to plan ahead for the worst conditions.
But wait - There’s still work to be done this winter!
Dormant pruning will be ongoing this winter as weather permits with a select PBOG crew. We have several orchards on our list, along with Kousa dogwood trees, forsythia hedges, and other deciduous material. It is easiest to see a plant’s structure when its leaves have dropped. Also it’s the traditional time to prune fruit trees during cool temperatures to lower the risk of spreading fungal diseases. Insect pests are dormant, too.

We may bring along our chipper to handle copious brush. See if you can use woodchips on your site for pathways or future woodland mulching projects. We love to close the loop and recycle!

Please contact Kim to arrange for our dormant pruning visit, <>
Arborist pruning a crabapple tree with a pole tool.
Skilled arborist pruning a crabapple tree
Last Call for Winter Containers!
Laura has been busy updating your containers and windowboxes for winter this past week. Please let Priscilla <> know at once if you are interested in a natural outdoor arrangement of winter greens, berries and colored twigs for your home.
Containers with winter greens and berries
Using Holly for Indoor Decor
Many of you have large blue Meserveae hollies (Ilex x meserveae) in your gardens, with many shrubs heavily loaded with red berries this year. The native American holly, Ilex opaca, is also fruiting now. Please plan to use holly branches in your holiday decorating! However, be aware that the cut branches will last only 7-10 days indoors before dropping leaves. I suggest that you cut them on the day before entertaining, essentially at the last minute.

Pick a dry day when temperatures are above freezing, without wind or strong sunlight that might cause excessive drying out. Choose the best quality branches, free from scratches, blemishes, and tears. Berries should be well-colored. Move your cuttings into a cool, moist area and wash off dust and any other contaminants in a tub or deep sink. When drip-dried, you can use holly branches to decorate mantels, doorways, tables, and to make centerpieces.
Winter holly
Meserveae holly
Holly will last a bit longer if branches are placed in a vase of water or if small pieces are floated in a large bowl of water. The decorating possibilities are many!

If we have already sprayed your holly with anti-desiccant to protect it from browning out over winter, you can still cut branches. These will last longer indoors than unsprayed branches but will be a bit shiny and sticky to handle. Remove the stickiness from your gloves or hands with Citrasolv, a natural cleanser. Outdoors, the anti-desiccant breaks down naturally in the warming temperatures of spring, so this may also occur indoors with central heating.
Note that the best time to prune these hollies is in the earliest part of spring. At that time, we will thin and shape the plants to provide a new template for their growth and fruiting in 2021!
Ten Gift Ideas for Gardeners

Stumped about what to give the gardener on your list? Here are some ideas:

  • A good pair of insulated, water-repellent gloves that will keep working hands warm when  temperatures drop below freezing
  • Sturdy chore boots, 100% waterproof
  • Professional hand pruners or folding hand saw - Felco is a great brand
  • Japanese weeding knife and sheath, useful to ferret out taprooted weeds and to divide perennials
  • Renew or initiate membership in a garden or nature nonprofit, or a plant society devoted to a specific type of plant
  • A rain barrel and diverter
  • Gift certificate for seed packets or plants to order for spring planting
  • One of the new crop of hardcover gardening books
  • Collapsable garden rake with extendable handle
  • Pop-up bag that can haul up to 17 pounds of debris
Plant Pick - Colored Twig Dogwoods
‘Midwinter Fire’
Now that the leaves have fallen, we notice any scrap of color outside our windows! Shrubby dogwoods offer stems of yellow, red or coral as a means of photosynthesizing during winter. By spring, these stems will magically turn dark again as the new leaf buds emerge.

There are newer, more compact cultivars for smaller gardens that remain about 4’ x 4’, or you may have space for a large plant that grows to 8’ x 8.’ To keep the winter twig color fresh, remove older, dark stems now or in early spring.

These plants can also be “stooled” or cut to the ground every few years in early spring to encourage bright-colored new growth. Their rate of growth is fast, and what may look like death to the plant soon encourages fresh regrowth at a slightly smaller size in the first year. However, we usually remove only about one-third of the stems annually, mainly the oldest wood.
‘Silver and Gold’
Outdoor Winter Diversions
Get outside this winter whenever you can do so. If temperatures are above 20 degrees and the wind has subsided, it’s great to check out a natural area near you. Here are a few suggestions for December:

Littleton’s Little Town Tree Hunt - search the town’s conservation trails for decorated trees created by community businesses and groups. Map in this Facebook post.

Visit a nearby Trustees of Reservations property such as Fruitlands or DeCordova Museum for outdoor art viewing and trail walking. <>

Tower Hill Botanic Garden has a family-oriented scavenger hunt on its grounds for bright-colored Yetis, who recently relocated from nearby Wachusett Mountain for the month of December, <>
Priscilla’s Garden To-Do List for December

  • Bring all garden tools, hoses and equipment indoors to a garage, shed or basement
  • Drain and store hoses to prolong life
  • Cut winter greens for decorating
  • Quickly plant any forgotten bulbs while the ground is unfrozen
  • Put up snow poles to mark your driveway for plowing
  • Stock up on Safe Paw ice melt that does not harm your plants or your pets’ paws
  • Allow branches of shrubs and trees to emerge naturally from snow and ice loads, as pulling on woody stems may cause breakage in cold temperatures
  • Put the garden “to bed” when conditions are right (see article above), gathering needed materials in advance
  • Take a break and turn to activities beyond the garden!
Our Gift to You
We are pleased to make gifts in honor of all our clients to three nonprofits that have provided members of our company with so much education and inspiration over the years:

Native Plant Trust, formerly New England Wild Flower Society <>

Community Action Works, formerly Toxics Action Center <>

NOFA’s Organic Land Care Program <>
With thanks from all our staff to you and your family, and we look forward to seeing you in 2021!

Priscilla and the PBOG Crew
© Copyright 2011-2020
Pumpkin Brook Organic Gardening, Inc. 
All rights reserved.
(978) 425-5531