Plan Now for Winter and Spring Color
- You can continue to tuck spring-flowering bulbs into the landscape as long as soil is workable. Look for bargains on bulbs -- many retailers will be trying to wrap up sales and empty inventory.
- Plant a container with pretty winter views in mind. Pansy, viola, flowering stock, ornamental cabbage, nemesia -- these and other annuals can dress a pot with color all winter long.
- Try your hand at creating a container arrangement. Stuff a pot with clippings of evergreens, interesting twigs, berried branches, and rose-hipped stems. Add ornamental grasses, coneflower heads, and pinecones.
- Sow wildflower seed now for a spring show. Seeds tucked into soil in fall appear earlier and bloom sooner than spring-sown ones.
Test Garden Tip: Get set for colorful holidays by adding a few amaryllis to your indoor spaces. These goof-proof bulbs sprout and flower -- even in water. Purchase and plant a few extra bulbs to give as gifts and spread some blooming holiday cheer.
Make your yard a retreat for birds by providing food, water, and shelter this winter. You'll enjoy the flitting color, and some birds may settle in to call your yard home for every season.
Different Feeders for Different Birds
- Clinging birds, like chickadees and nuthatches, will visit mesh feeders that lack perches.
- Goldfinches hang on thistle sock feeders.
- Woodpeckers and flickers cling to suet cages.
- Ground feeders, like juncos, pine siskins, and doves, favor a ground-level feeding tray.
If squirrels pester feeders, look for baffles or squirrel-proof posts. Safflower seed isn't a favorite among squirrels; filling feeders with it may discourage them.
- Add a heater to an existing birdbath or invest in a heated birdbath. Keep baths filled. Birds will come to depend on the fresh water source you provide.
- If you're adding a heated birdbath to a deck, look for a rail-mount bath that tilts for easy cleaning.
Test Garden Tip: Birds will seek out winter shelter in dense evergreens, roosting pockets, and nest boxes. Clean birdhouses by removing old nesting material and wiping down surfaces with a 10 percent bleach solution. Wear rubber gloves when cleaning nest boxes.
Whether you have a full-fledged orchard or just a few fruit trees, if you tackle fall cleanup, you'll eliminate many hiding places for pests and diseases.
- Prune and destroy all diseased limbs or twigs.
- Rake and destroy apple and cherry leaves. This includes crabapple leaves.
- Keep grass and weeds near tree trunks clipped and mowed. This prevents rodents from hiding in vegetation and chewing on tree bark.
Specific trees require treatment now for specific diseases.
Apricot brown rot: Spray trees with a fungicide that contains copper, like a Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate and hydrated lime).
Peach leaf curl: Spray trees with lime sulfur after leaves fall.
When spraying for these diseases, cover trunks, branches, and the ground beneath trees. Apply spray according to package directions regarding drying time and rainfall. Most sprays require a 36-hour rain-free window after application.
Till, broadfork, or turn vegetable gardens to expose overwintering insects to cold temperatures. Work a layer of chopped leaves or compost into soil, then sow a cover crop of hairy vetch or winter rye. In spring, till the bright green stems under to add more nutrients to soil.
Test Garden Tip: Don't add diseased foliage to the compost pile unless you know it gets hot enough to destroy disease organisms. When in doubt, throw it out or designate it for disposal at a city-wide composting site, where piles generate sufficient heat to kill problem organisms.
Broadleaf and needle evergreens need extra moisture going into winter to prevent winter burn. Continue to water plants until the ground freezes. Treat plants with an antitranspirant/antidesiccant spray to protect even more against winter drying.
Wrap tree trunks of saplings with hardware cloth or tree guards to prevent nibbling rodents from damaging bark. Keep mulch away from tree trunks and shrub bases to avoid giving rodents a hiding place.
Tie twine around loosely branched evergreens, such as yew and arborvitae, to help prevent breaking from ice and snow accumulation.
Check trees for branches that could easily break under the weight of snow and ice. Look for branches that extend extremely far from the trunk or have weak crotch angles.
Dig dahlias, begonias, cannas, and gladiolus. Dry tubers or corms in the shade for a few days. Store in vermiculite, perlite, or peat moss in a cool place.
Test Garden Tip: Protect woody ornamentals against browsing deer by treating with a repellent early in the season. Tossing bird netting over desirable shrubs can also deter deer.
- Use a whetstone or sharpening gadget to refresh cutting edges on pruners and loppers. Grab a file to sharpen spades, trowels, and shovels.
- Steel wool makes quick work of rust on metal blades. After cleaning, rub metal surfaces with a rag dipped in oil. The oil will help keep future rust at bay.
- Sand wooden tool handles and rub in a coat of linseed oil. This action helps preserve wood and invest it with water resistance.
- Paint, tape, or otherwise mark tool handles, especially if you work or volunteer in a community garden. Bright paint or tape can make your tools easy to find in a planting bed -- and help differentiate them from similar gear.
- Go through your hand tools. It's easy to accumulate extras. Sort and keep the ones you use; give the rest to a community or school garden. Make a list of tools that need replacing or just need a replacement part.
- Inventory garden gloves, too. Clean and keep the good ones; recycle the rest. Old gloves make fun fence toppers sure to bring a smile.
Test Garden Tip: Winterize your lawn mower by running out the gas, scraping all dirt and grass from beneath the chassis, and pulling the spark plug. Change oil and air filter as needed. Sharpen the blade.