Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
Winter 2005 Gardening Tips
With advent of cold, snow, and waning sunlight, outside gardening activities have been brought to a standstill. When the weather permits, you can finish raking those leaves and cutting down those dried perennial stalks. Be careful in walking on the soil when it is wet as this compacts it and makes it difficult for plant growth to emerge in the spring.
Applying a layer of mulch now will prevent plants from heaving out of the ground with the freezing/ thawing process and will keep the soil at an even temperature. Fresh mulch also makes the garden tidy in appearance.
Do not be alarmed if you see plant growth, especially bulb foliage, emerge.To Feed or Not to Feed - That is the Question!
Most Fairlington condo associations ask residents not to feed the critters and birds as this attracts rodents; however, if you do have a bird feeder in your patio, use prehulled sunflower seeds as the natural ones compact, create a mess, and kill underlying plants when they fall from the feeder. Some birdseed is treated so that squirrels do not eat them. Always remember to check your association handbook before setting up bird feeders.Snow
Wet snow causes some evergreen shrubs to splay open and break - arborvitae, boxwood, and yews are particularly at risk. To avoid damage from snow fall, gently brush away the snow with your arm or a broom before it weighs down the shrub. If the snow freezes on the plant, leave it alone and let it melt naturally. Do not try to remove it as Trying to remove ice will damage the plant. Evergreens which tend to splay with snowfall can be tied together with garden twine before the onset of snow to prevent breakage.
Generally snow is helpful to ground plants as it keeps them warm and prevents their drying out from cold winds. Snow is nature's winter mulch.Deciduous Holly
We are all familiar with the variety of evergreen hollies which brighten the winter scene, but have you noticed the deciduous hollies? They are available with red, orange, and yellow berries. These hollies drop their leaves in the fall to reveal bright red berries against dark bark.
There are some plantings of this variety in Court 14 (west side of court) of Fairlington Mews, in the median plantings on 34th St., and along the perimeter of the parking lot of the Anser Building at Shirlington.
Houseplants and Holiday Plants
Poinsettias are easy to care for throughout the holidays. Just follow these simple rules:
Light - Poinsettias need a minimum of 6 hours bright (but not direct) sunlight each day.
Temperature - These plants prefer temperatures from 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day with a drop to 60-65 degrees at night. The lower night temperatures help the poinsettias keep their brilliant color.
Protect the plants from both cold and hot drafts from outside doors, heat registers or appliances. Never let the plant be exposed to temperatures less than 55 degrees.
Water - Poinsettias like moist, but not wet, soil. When the top of the soil becomes dry, add room temperature water to the plant. Allow the water to drain through the pot when watering, and then discard any excess water in the saucer. If the plant's container was wrapped with decorative foil, be sure to remove the foil from the bottom of the container to allow water to drain through the plant. Overwatering the poinsettia and letting it sit in excess water are common mistakes that will kill the plant. If your poinsettia begins to wilt, too much or too little water could be the culprit. If the plant feels dry, add water immediately. If the container feels heavy and the soil is wet, allow the poinsettia to dry out before watering it again.
Holiday (or Christmas) Cactus
Really not a cactus, but rather a succulent, the holiday cactus (blooms from Thanksgiving on) is a holiday favorite. It needs well-drained soil to grow well. Inside it prefers bright, indirect light and can be summered outside in the shade. Direct sunlight scorches the leaves. While in bloom, the plant should be watered weekly; lack of water causes the buds to drop. When the plant finishes flowering, stop watering for about 6 weeks to let it rest.
In the spring when growth resumes, repot if necessary and begin regular watering and fertilize with an all purpose fertilizer. For the plant to rebloom it needs several weeks of temperatures at 55/ 60 degrees (it can be left outside unless there is the danger of frost) to set buds.
Like the poinsettia, the Christmas cactus sets buds as the days become shorter and requires a period of daily darkness (about 13 hours) to flower properly.
These plants live for a long time. In some instances, a plant has lived and flowered for over 75 years with proper treatment!
If your houseplants are leaning to the window, this is a sign that they need more light! Inside plants need bright light now which you may supplement with grow lights if you wish. Most plants have very limited growth now and should not be overwatered or fertilized. Keep the foliage free from dust by wiping with a cloth, rinsing with tepid water, or spraying with a mister. Dust keeps the plant from completing photosynthesis.
When the hours of sunlight increase, growth will resume. This is a good time to lightly prune your houseplants, taking cuttings (which usually root in water) to provide more plants for spring planting!
Brighten your inside garden with narcissus and flowering amaryllis. Soon the grocery store will have forced bulbs - daffodils, crocus, and hyacinths - to brighten up that dreary winter day.
Take time to walk around the community to see what plants and shrubs provide winter interest and consider adding some of these (space permitting!) to your border next spring. This is also a good time to check out the end of season bargains on "remainders" at the local nursery. Consider potting up some small evergreens and other plants with winter interest to keep your patio attractive during the bleak days of winter.
This is a good time to catch up on your gardening reading! An interesting on-line newsletter is the heirloom bulb information from www.oldhousegardens.com for tips and advice! You may also access the site from the Fairlington gardening page.
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