New England

December, 2010
Regional Report

Add Color with Kalanchoe

Pick up a kalanchoe plant in full bloom to add some color to your winter windowsill. Readily available-- even in the grocery store-- these succulents come in an array of bright colors and bloom for months with little effort on your part. Ideal conditions include four hours of direct sun a day, temperatures around 70 degrees with nights about 10 degrees cooler, and soil that is allowed to become nearly dry between waterings. To rebloom next winter, plants will need 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness from early September to mid-October, so you may decide it's easier to think of them simply as long-lasting bouquets and consign them to the compost pile when flowers finally fade.

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Once the holiday festivities are done, cut the branches off your Christmas tree and pile them loosely over plants in the garden that could use some extra protection. Perennials that were divided in the fall, with smaller root systems to anchor them in the ground, are vulnerable to being heaved from the ground as a result of alternate freezing and thawing. A blanket of evergreen boughs will help prevent this type of injury.

Make Some Unusual Bouquets

Take a walk outside in the snowy garden and look for interesting plant material for indoor arrangements. The bare stems of plants such as red or yellow twig dogwood, winged euonymus and beech can make a striking "bouquet." Even the dried stems of milkweed with pods attached or burdock with its prickly seed heads are eye-catching when paired with an unusual container.

Brush Up on Plant Identification

Winter is a great time to practice your plant identification skills based on twigs, buds, cones and plant silhouette. A great little guide that's become a classic and is small enough to fit is your pocket is Winter Tree Finder by May and Tom Watts-- and it's only $3.95! Another inexpensive standby is Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William Harlow, originally published in 1959 and now available as a Dover paperback reprint.

Get Ready for Seed Starting

Yes, I'm always going to leave everything clean and organized at the end of the gardening season-- maybe in the next lifetime! In the meanwhile, I spend odd moments during the winter scrubbing and sanitizing my pots and seed flats so they'll be ready for seed starting in late winter and early spring. I clean containers with a stiff brush, then dip them into a solution of nine parts water and one part household bleach and let them air dry.

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