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Gardeners Checklist: Here Is What To Do the Week of Nov. 13

Gardeners Checklist: Here Is What To Do the Week of Nov. 13

By Ron Kujawski

• Bring in birdbaths, statues, and other concrete garden ornaments.  Concrete absorbs moisture and often cracks when exposed to frigid temperatures.  Also gather your flock of pink flamingoes.  They may not crack in freezing weather, but who ever heard of flamingoes standing around knee deep in snow. 

• Apply a three-inch deep layer of straw over strawberry plants when day time temperatures are consistently at or below 40 degrees F and before the ground freezes.  The crowns of strawberry plants are prone to damage from very low temperatures (less than 12 degrees F) and to the drying effects of winter winds.

• Dig the hole now if you’re planning on having a living Christmas tree this year.  Save the dug soil in a frost-free location so that it can be used as backfill when planting the tree.  Fill the hole with leaves and cover with a sheet of plywood or a tarp.  Keep in mind the ultimate height and width of the tree when selecting the site for planting.  I’ve seen people plant a Colorado blue spruce Christmas tree beside the front entrance to their home.  After six years, the tree was quite visible; the house was not. 

• Water houseplants during the winter months just enough to keep them from wilting.  Except for flowering houseplants growing under artificial light there’s no need to apply fertilizer until late winter. 

Speaking of houseplants, a question I often get at this time of year is, “Why is my Christmas cactus blooming now?” 

The answer is simple: “It’s blooming because it is a Thanksgiving cactus and not a Christmas cactus!”  “Huh?”

While Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus are closely related, they are two distinct species with different bloom times.  Besides flowering time, the two can be easily distinguished by examining the flat leaf-like segments making up the stem.  The segments on Thanksgiving cacti have pointed lobes at the edges, while those of Christmas cacti have rounded lobes.

There’s no question that landscapes at this time of year have lost most of their luster.  Other than evergreens, a few trees and shrubs with colorful fruit, and the blossoms of a few tough annuals, the dominant garden color is brown.  Brown is nice but I don’t think it will stop many of us in our tracks.  What has stopped me in my tracks of late is the number of birds that have taken an interest in our gardens.  While I do try to clean up as much of the garden as possible before snow flies, I don’t bother to cut down dead flower stems of annuals and perennials if they have seedheads.  Asters, coneflowers, goldenrod, and sunflowers are a few examples of plants that will carry seedheads well in to fall.  I make it a point to spend some time each morning watching cardinals, chickadees, goldfinches, juncos, nuthatches and sparrows flitting about and devouring the nutritious seeds of these plants.  It seems that our gardens never stop providing interest, solace, and entertainment.   Gardeners have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service. He serves on Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Horticulture Advisory Committee. His book, Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook, is available here.


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