New England

October, 2006
Regional Report

Help Christmas Cactus Set Buds

A Christmas cactus needs either long nights or cool temperatures (or both) to initiate flower buds. You can put it in a closet or room that stays completely dark from sunset to sunrise until new flower buds reach 1/8 inch long (at least three weeks). Or move your plant to a cool location that stays between 55 and 60 degrees. Water just enough to keep the plant from wilting (the stems will feel limp), and hold off on fertilizer until the buds form. Then move the plant into your living space and water whenever the soil is dry to the touch.

Cut Back Dead Foliage

Once flower stalks of perennials have died and turned brown, you can cut them down to 3 or 4 inches from the ground, or leave the seed heads for the birds. Echinacea, black-eyed Susans, ornamental grasses, and sedums offer wildlife treats so leave these alone. But daylilies, phlox, and others that have no dried seedpods can be cut back.

Wait to Mulch Bulbs

Once you plant your bulbs, don't be too quick to cover them with mulch. Wait until the ground freezes, so you don't inadvertently provide a home for rodents that are looking for a place to hide for the winter. Once the ground freezes, the rodents will have burrowed elsewhere and it's safe to spread mulch. The same holds true for mulching trees and shrubs.

Save Leaves

Shredded leaves add nutrients and organic matter to garden beds, so don't dispose of them. If just a few leaves have fallen on the lawn, you can mow over them and leave them. To shred a larger quantity, spread them on the lawn and mow over them, then rake them up and mix them into garden beds. If you are inundated, rake them up and stockpile them where they can decompose for a year.

Empty Flower Pots

Ceramic and clay pots of dead annual flowers can freeze and crack if they are left outside in winter. Better to empty the soil into the compost pile, then rinse the pots of debris and store them in a frost-free location.

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