If you have plants that have been in the house since October, and especially if they have large leaves, it is time for a bath.  If they are too heavy to move, you can use a wet sponge and wipe off both sides to let them breathe easier.  It is better not to use the sprays and products that make the leaves shiny.  In most cases they contain an oil which will clog the pores of the leaves.  I have heard some people use milk for washing. But I imagine that would also be a “clogger”. For the ones small enough, I put them in the tub or sink and use the spray.  Usually I crunch up foil to cover the top of the pot to save the soil.

          Seeds of your Christmas oranges or grapefruit should be planted before they dry out and will soon give you small, good looking plants.  If you are planning on starting Seed Geraniums or Prairie Gentians (Eustoma), they need to be started soon in damp soil in a warm spot. They both are slow to germinate and slow to start growing.  I find it works better to use starting or planting mix to prevent damping off from killing the seedlings. Damping off is a fungous waiting in garden soil to rot the tiny stem at the soil line.  You can use a plastic bag over the top of your garden to keep the soil from drying out.  This year I am saving the take out salad containers from the grocery store as their lids will keep the moisture in.  I have a heating pad under lights in the basement to encourage them to start. 

          Watch your amaryllis bulbs that you brought in earlier.  There will always be at least one early bulb.  If so, repot the bulb, soak the soil, and move the bulb and its new soil into a sunny, warm spot. Your Christmas cactus should have buds by this time and needs to be watered on a regular schedule. Do not overwater as they rot very easy.  My Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus usually bloom about the same time. Do not fertilize Amaryllis and Christmas Cactus until they get done flowering.

          This last year I have had more rabbits than usual and they ate the bark off some my smaller trees. Luckily they did not get all the way around. Among their victims was my Ginkgo tree. So this winter it’s trunk is wrapped to higher than tall rabbits standing on their back feet can reach. I will take it off next spring, and need to watch for snow banks that will let them reach higher.

          If you have some plants too tender for our area that are stored somewhere, they must be checked for moisture. I have an insulated garage where I have cactus (no water the entire winter), a Norfolk Island Pine, an Angel Trumpet that I cut back more than halfway, and a Lavender. For the Lavender I will keep the soil barely moist.  There are also 2 Bougainvillea, and an Allamande vine. 

          By this time we should have had enough freezing to start putting compost on some of the plants to keep them at an even cold temperature until spring.  I have several that are listed for hardiness zone 6 so I place cages around them and fill with compost.  Compost doesn’t mat down as badly as big leaves. I cut the Butterfly Bush back, caged it, and filled the cage. The new perennials I started this fall don’t have their roots down tight yet so I cover them.  My “smothering” piles of leaves are picked up, go through the chipper, and then I can use them as a mulch. These can be put anywhere to hold moisture in and keep soil temperature steady. I say hold the temperature steady as more plants are killed by the freezing and thawing than by the cold weather. Mulch over our tender plants does not keep the ground warm but keeps it cold until spring. My Black Mondo grass is spreading slowly by runners into a nice patch.

          With the snow, the birds may be having a hard time finding food and water.  The bird bath heater should go in and the various foods set out.  I feed at three levels:

          The first level includes:

·        The hanging feeders full of Niger seeds for the Goldfinch;

·        The second hanging feeders are full of sunflower hearts for the Chickadees, Finch, and Siskins;

·        The suet feeders have been filled for the Hairy and DownyWoodpeckers.

       A second group of feeders are on the picnic table.  These have wire floors so they can drain, and in them goes a mixed feed for the Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Sparrows.

       The third level of feeders are my pathways and patio floor for the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Sparrows, Morning Doves, and Juncos. This food is again a mix of millet, sunflower hearts, cracked corn, and peanuts.  I have counted over forty different species of birds eating out there over the years, as well as a number of squirrels.  Rabbits also like some of the bird food and I hope this keeps them away from my tree trunks and new plants as they come up in the spring.


          This fall I was crawling on my hands and knees getting weeds out from under my rose bushes. My back was hurting, but as I was getting up, I found I could stick my nose into a just opening red rose. When I got into the house to rest and stretch out in the big easy chair, a small, fuzzy, warm dog hopped up, curls up in my lap and goes to sleep, knowing he is safe and that food and water are waiting when he wakes up.  It can’t get much better than this, can it? I hope you get as much pleasure from your garden, pets, and friends as I do?

Copyright 2005