December 2018       Volume 8, No. 6  
Hello Intrepid Gardeners,

Mother Nature has asserted herself again, with an early onset to winter this time.  Our crews made a valiant attempt to finish all garden work before the November 15th snowstorm but did not completely succeed.  Then we got back outside when the snow melted, making a mad dash to the finish line.  But still we didn't finish everything on the list at all clients!

Now what?

Some fall chores will have to wait until early spring, especially in higher elevations west of Rt. 495 where soils have frozen.  In my own yard in Townsend, for instance, I managed to remove all leaves from the lawn but only a portion of the beds.  Left in place, this leaf layer will provide good winter protection for the perennials and shrubs.  Snow cover provides further insulation from the temperature variances that we are likely to experience this winter.  I managed to cut down remaining perennials during a warm spell and plan to have a big spring leaf cleanup!  Some areas are still under snow.

Your soil amending and compost topdressing to beds, if planned but not yet executed, can wait for earliest spring.  Per NOFA Organic Land Care Standards, we cannot spread amendments on frozen soil due to risk of runoff.

Bulbs are another matter.  They can be planted anytime before the ground freezes.  If you were caught with unplanted bulbs, read more about how to force them outside in pots in this month's feature article.

Dormant pruning of trees and shrubs can be undertaken on dry days when temperatures are above 20 degrees and there is access to the plants, i.e. no ice coating or heavy layer of snow interfering with footing and set up of ladders.  Chipping of brush can happen on a dry day.
Credits will be issued with our next invoices for uncompleted, prepaid Tick and Mosquito spraying that could not take place due to the snowstorm.  Also a handful of clients did not have soil biology tests pulled in time; if prepaid, this cost will be credited.  The soil is now too cold to measure microscopic but important soil life.
What about winter protection of my tender or vulnerable plants? 

Snow is a great insulator, and for the short term provided the needed protection of David Austin and hybrid tea roses.  We plan to get out to make cones of compost around the root zones of these plants once we can determine that the ground is frozen.  This will likely happen the week of December 10th.

Heaths and heathers, lavender and candytuft were fine with a good layer of snow cover.  However, once exposed, and if the ground is frozen and open, we will plan to top them off as usual with a layer of pine needles and evergreen boughs to protect from winter desiccation.  And salt marsh hay will be spread around plants in open beds that have been vulnerable in the past - again, once we can determine that frozen ground is present. If you have strawberries they will need to covered to protect the tender crowns from winter damage.

Why do we wait for frozen ground?  If we cover plants too early, the layer of compost, needles, boughs or hay make a lovely winter home for various rodents!  There is then high risk that mice or voles will eat the roots of your plants.
Al and Reese, our Plant Health Care team, have now completed their applications of deer repellent and anti-desiccant sprays.  Also, they have been attaching garlic clips to hollies, hydrangea canes and chamaecyparis branches.  As enzymes in the deer's stomach change at this time of year, deer turn to browsing on woody plants.  These are now more readily digestable than the soft green foliage of summertime.
How to Force Bulbs Over Winter 
My friends Brent and Becky Heath, owners of Brent and Becky's Bulbs in Virginia, shared this technique with me during a bulb seminar I attended at their headquarters back in March 2012.  It will work for the bulbs that you didn't get to plant in the ground this fall.

Gather a bunch of 2 gallon pots.  Fill with a shallow layer of potting soil.  Add 5 tulips or daffodils per pot at the 6" to 8" depth.  Cover with potting soil.  Label!  Set pots on the north side of your house and cover the pots with 6" of woodchips or bark mulch.  Let the pots freeze for 8 to 16 weeks.  Check on them in March when the snow starts to melt.  Gradually pull away the mulch over a period of a week or two.  Put the pots on your doorsteps when the shoots emerge.  Sunlight and occasional watering should encourage the bulbs to grow and bloom at the normal time!

For smaller bulbs such as Crocus, Grape Hyacinths or the like, use a shallow, wide "bulb pan" about 6" deep instead of the two gallon pot.  These bulbs should be planted at a depth of twice their size.

After bloom, these forced bulbs can be planted in the ground with a bit of bulb fertilizer for next year.
Honoring Peggy Liversidge  
Peggy Pruning
Peggy is our longest term employee and has been with Pumpkin Brook as a part-time gardener since 2002!  She has decided to retire this month.  All of us will miss her good humor, common sense, and can-do attitude along with her tremendous horticultural knowledge.  Please join me in wishing Peggy all the best in her "re-wire-ment."
Winter Greens for Cheer in the Darkest Months of the Year
We finished preparing winter greens in urns, window boxes, mailboxes and other empty containers just before all the soil in the containers froze up solidly!  But we can still help you with stringing holiday lights on trees, hanging wreaths or swags, and creating a festive look at your front door. Containers of greens, winterberry and colored twig dogwood can still be prepared if we work with empty pots and fresh soil.  All greens are sprayed with anti-desiccant to prolong life and prevent browning.  Please let Priscilla at know if you would like us to help you catch up with your holiday decorating.
Winter Mailbox Planting  
Plant Pick - Amaryllis, Hippeastrum hybrids

This has been one of my favorite indoor winter plants for a long time.  It's a native of the Andes mountains of Chile, Peru and Bolivia as well as parts of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, Mexico and the West Indies.  You can find amaryllis in bulb catalogues or garden centers at this time of year.  Each large bulb has all the resources needed to grow and bloom in its first year.  Sometimes, you'll even find them blooming out of soil at the garden center!  

I like to soak the roots in warm water for a few hours to wake them up, as the roots often arrive somewhat desiccated.  Then I pot up the bulb, nestled into a container just a bit bigger than the bulb, with the neck one thirds out of the soil.  Water it well and place it in a bright windowsill.  Amaryllis grow quickly and will require almost daily watering once the stem starts to elongate.  Turn the pot and stake the stem with a bit of kitchen string to keep it straight.  By late January or early February, your amaryllis should be blooming!
Priscilla's To-Do List for December
-Drain hoses and empty watering cans, store for winter (bring into your basement for a day to thaw if frozen solid)
-Sharpen and repair all garden tools, make list of replacements needed
-Order amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs to grow for winter cheer
-Install shrub protectors to prevent damage from falling snow and ice at foundations
-Mark driveway with stakes to minimize plow damage to lawns and beds
-Prepare containers of winter greens, hang lights, wreaths and swags
-Plant bulbs in containers and put outside under a 6" layer of mulch for winter (see how-to article)
-After the ground freezes, protect tender roses and perennials

We thank you for your loyalty this season and are thankful for the great opportunities we have had to work in your beautiful gardens!  Sending our best wishes for a happy holiday season and look forward to seeing you in 2019,

Priscilla and the PBOG Crew
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