Urban Gardening

From November 2007 E-newsletter

November Q&A

Question: I live in Rochester, New York, and my son gave me a little rose bush that's in a container. How do I winterize it?

Answer: You don't mention which type of rose you have. Many of the shrub roses and species roses are hardy enough to endure your winters without protection. However, most of the hybrid roses have a tender top grafted onto a hardier rootstock. In this case, you must protect the graft (a visible swollen knot near the base of the plant where the two different roses are fused together).

Sometime in late November or December, when the weather really turns cold but before winter's harshest temperatures, prepare to cover the graft point. Pile mulch, pine needles, or compost around the stem and over the graft, ideally to a depth of a foot. Some gardeners wrap the pile with burlap to keep the mulch or pine needles in place. Rose cones and other coverings are also available. (I'm in my garden all four seasons so I don't use cones; I don't want my rose bed to look like a graveyard for Big Gulps.)

Check after snowstorms or fierce winds to make sure everything is still in place and the graft is covered. The goal is to keep the graft cold throughout winter. If it is exposed to winter winds or allowed to thaw and refreeze in the January sun, chances for survival are slim. Even after precautions and protection, I have lost some hybrid tea roses. So cover your plants, hope for moderately cold temperatures without too many thaws, and, just in case, browse through catalogs of hardy shrub roses. Good luck.

Question: Now that the gardening season is coming to an end, I would like to grow lettuce in my garden window that's at room temperature. I really like romaine, but in this small space I don't think it is possible. Please tell me what varieties of lettuce I should try to use and also what planter sizes you suggest. I'm also interested in other types of herbs or veggies that might grow indoors.

Answer: I like your positive thinking. Veggies require full sun, rich soil, and a host of other conditions that are hard to imitate indoors. Even in a greenhouse, winter crops can be difficult, and the selection is limited. To grow lettuce indoors you will need large trays or 10- or 12-inch pots, sterilized soil mix, bright grow lights to extend the day length, and a sweater because lettuce likes it about 55 degrees F. If you want indoor greens, your best bet is to try a mix of mesclun greens that you can snip for salads as they grow.

You might have better luck buying your winter salad greens and veggies from a local source and growing herbs in your window, or perhaps a chili pepper plant. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, and miniature basil are among the herbs that should grow (though maybe not flourish) in your warm garden window. If your house is particularly dry, you may need to sit them on a humidity tray -- a tray or large saucer filled with rocks and water to increase the moisture in the air.

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