The gift giving season is fast approaching. Most gardeners are practical folks who have no need for fussy items for the garden. Here are a few gift suggestions to consider.
The gift of education! In the winter months when gardening is limited, classes are a wonderful way to gain new knowledge and scratch the gardening itch. Mt. Cuba Center and Longwood Gardens both offer many classes and workshops. A membership to these gardens is also a great idea.
Consider practical items that gardeners need but do not always want to invest in. Things like good organic fertilizers, coir bricks to add to lightweight potting soil, flexible carrying tub trugs, and heavy duty hoses—ones that can stand getting run over! A good quality hose end watering wand is always appreciated.
Quality tools can make the gardening experience so much more enjoyable. Some of our “must-have-it’s-my-favorite” tools include good quality hand pruners, Japanese weeding knife (so many uses!), a digging and spading garden fork (better than a shovel for digging up many things), a stirrup hoe (perfect for all the vegetable gardeners), a serrated soil scoop (more uses than a hand trowel).
Consider a gardening book that is specific to your gardener’s situation and interests like deer resistant or shade. Often works on a specific topic are more useful than general gardening books. Want some recommendations on our favorites? Let us know in the comments.
If you would like to impress your gardener, wrap up a box of soil with a promise of a delivery of quality compost in the spring. Gardeners never have enough compost and there will be much gratitude for such a thoughtful gift – especially if it includes some of your labor to spread said compost!
A serious gardener can almost never have too many pairs of work gloves. Gloves with lightweight rubber coating are invaluable for keeping your hands clean and dry. If heavy pruning or shoveling is planned, gloves with padded palms are appreciated. Having multiple pairs makes it easy to trot off and start the day. A pair in the car is fab as well.
Maybe some scissors or flower snips. Pairs of inexpensive scissors in can be tucked planters around the house for impromptu deadheading or for gathering flowers. These are under $5.00 and can be sharpened.
Gardening twine or plant ties (I like the reusable Velcro ties).
Gift certificates to mail order plant or seed suppliers and a copy of the catalog.
One last piece of advice… Use caution with those kitschy garden ornaments. If you don’t know the gardener’s tastes well, it might end up the equivalent to the ugly Christmas sweater…interesting but embarrassing to use.
Amsonia hubrichtii has the common name Bluestar or Threadleaf
Bluestar. It is a hardy, long-lived perennial native to Arkansas, Oklahoma and
This Amsonia has lovely, feathery foliage that adds a unique,
billowy texture to the garden. It blooms in spring with light blue, star-like
flowers – but this plant really shines in the fall with brilliant golden-yellow
Amsonia hubrichtii is easy to grow in average, well-drained
soil . With time it can grow quite large, 3-4 feet tall and wide with a shrub-like
appearance. This perennial starts slow
and may need a couple years to fill out but once established it is hardy, dependable
and rarely needs division. A polite grower, it does not spread by rhizomes and
is not known to aggressively self-seed. Amsonia hubrichtii is deer and rabbit
resistant and has no serious pests or diseases.
The flowering and fall color is best in full sun, but it
will tolerate some shade. If grown in
too much shade or very rich soil, its habit will be open and floppy. Cutting it
back about 6 inches after blooming will help prevent flopping.
The growing season may be winding down but there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy your property this month. A few tasks to consider…
Take a stroll around to assess what grew well, what may have struggled, and needs to moved, empty spots that will need a new plant next year (shopping!!). Make notes for future reference or else document the needs with your phone camera.
Harvest seed pods, dried ornamental grass tops, pine cones, interesting twigs, sweet gum balls, and other potential natural holiday decorations. Please leave a quantity for wildlife to enjoy throughout the winter but if you are using these items outside they can still nosh on them in a wreath or porch pot.
Bring inside any delicate garden ornaments. Freezing temperatures and winter weather along with winds and maybe a falling tree branch can do damage to beloved garden art.
For not yet planted plants, assess your possibilities for overwintering if they just can’t make it in the ground. Group together near a wall for protection but make sure they still receive moisture. You can tuck them into a compost pile, wrap pots with bubble wrap and overwinter in a larger planter, or if you can’t deal with so many….gift them to another gardener!
Finish planting spring bulbs. Bulbs can be planted until January as long as the ground is not frozen.
Keep spreading downed leaves around shrubs and trees. Leaves are nature’s soil blanket and soil builder. Many pollinators and amphibians overwinter in leaves so next season’s spring peeper may be snuggled up under your shrubs!
Make sure evergreens that have been planted in the last two years have sufficient water going into winter. Evergreens lose moisture through their needles all year round and if the ground is frozen, this depletes their reserves and browning or death can occur.
Compost in place. If your limp Hosta leaves are challenging your garden aesthetics, cut them down and leave them on the ground. No worries as they will soon decompose right there and enrich your soil doing it. This works best for softer items but can be done if woodies are cut up in small pieces.
If you are planning a new garden bed or the expansion of an existing one next year, get a head start now. Cover turf areas with newspaper. Top that with alternate layers of leaves and green compostable items like grass clippings and vegetable waste to a height of about 18 inches. Come spring, the area will much more friendly for planting.
For bird lovers; clean out birdhouses and then add bits of soft fabric (natural fibers) for overwintering. On bitter cold nights birds will seek shelter in houses and often with other birds to help retain heat. In the spring the bits of fabric can be placed on the ground for nest building.
If you do not already have a bird feeder on your property, consider installing one for your important garden assistants. They are still inspecting your trees for harmful insects and watching colorful bird antics in the winter months makes for great entertainment. Feeders provide supplemental food when winter conditions are harsh. Buy quality bird seed. Something you would like if you were a bird!
Don’t throw out your hanging basket. You might want to recycle that after reading December’s issue.
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine Hirsuta) is a winter annual weed
that begins growing in late fall and resumes growing in late winter and early
spring, often before other plants wake up from their winter slumber.
This weed forms a rosette of leaves in the fall and usually
waits until spring to flower. It forms small white flowers on stems above the
foliage. The flowers turn into long thin seed pods. When the seeds are ripe,
the pods explode when disturbed, shooting the seeds up to 16 feet according to
Hairy Bittercress is an annual and is usually shallow rooted and easy to pull out. The secret to its success as a weed is the prolific amount of seed and the ability to spread it by explosion so early in the season when other plants have not yet emerged to cover ground.
The best way to manage this weed is to pull them before they
make seeds. Removing the rosettes in the fall or early winter can reduce the
However, Hairy Bittercress does have some wildlife value for
early butterfly caterpillars and specialist bees. If possible, leave a patch in your yard for
the caterpillars to munch.
Fun fact… Hairy Bittercress is part of the mustard family
and is edible. It apparently has a mild, peppery flavor.
Fall is a great time to anticipate spring by planting
some spring blooming bulbs. Not only do
you benefit from seeing flowers early in the year, the bees will thank you for
giving them an early season boost of nectar from those early bloomers.
Late February/beginning of March is when the queen
bumblebee, solitary bees and honey bees may emerge to forage for much needed
pollen and nectar to replenish their energy levels. By planting early bulbs such as: Snowdrops (Galanthus), Crocus, Buttercups
(Eranthis), Glory of the snow (Chinodoxa), Siberian squill (Scilla siberica,
and even species tulips you can greatly enhance the presence of pollinators in
your garden for the season.
For a continuation of spring color, later bloomers include Fritillaria, Grape hyacinth (Muscari) and those highly-scented Hyacinths.
A large group that would satisfy any gardener and that bees also relish is the Allium family. There are early and mid-spring as well as summer blooming Allium in various heights, colors, and forms. They all provide excellent bee forage and can provide interest in pretty much any area of the garden.
Planting bulbs is easily done up until the ground freezes and you can still place an order from some excellent sources. Some of our favorites include:
One additional thought on providing early blooming flowers for the bees, Hellebores are excellent for this purpose. Like bulbs, once established Hellebores can thrive for years with not much fuss or muss.
If you have Hellebores already established in your garden, investigate under the “skirts” for babies that can be transplanted to new locations in the fall.
Planting bulbs is a spring present to yourself and to the bees who will appreciate you thinking of them and continue to pollinate the landscape for the benefit of us all.
Do you have an area of your yard that is not doing as well
as you’d like? Or maybe you’re considering creating a new planting area? Have
you tested the soil in your vegetable garden in the past 5 years? Or ever?
A soil test can give you valuable (and sometimes surprising)
information. Proper soil nutrients create healthy plants that are better able
to fend off diseases and pests without any intervention. Knowing the state of
your soil can help prevent the expense of excess fertilization, not to mention
the environmental damage that excess fertilizer can cause.
Now is the perfect time to get that soil test. If the soil test indicates that your soil is too acidic, you can apply the lime in the fall so it has time to alter the soil pH over the winter. If your soil is low in organic matter, you may decide to grow a cover crop over the fall and winter.
fertilizers should be added in the spring before planting.
Soil test kits can be purchased from the Penn State Extension Office in Smeadley Park. Follow the directions for sampling carefully – your test results are only as good as your sample. You will receive a soil report sent directly to your home with all the recommendations for improving your soil. If you have any trouble interpreting your test report, you can always contact the Master Gardener Hort Line for help.
Garlic is planted in the fall – the same as ornamental bulbs
like tulips and daffodils. In Southeastern PA, garlic is generally planted in mid-October.
The timing is based on giving the bulbs time to create a good root system
before cold sets in, but not so much warmth that they sprout before winter.
There are many varieties of garlic which fit into two main
types, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties are generally more hardy and
easier to grow in our climate, but it never hurts to experiment. Garlic bulbs for planting can be purchased
from many places where you would purchase fall bulbs.
Garlic bulbs should be broken into individual cloves and planted about 2 inches deep, 6 inches apart in an area with fertile, well-draining soil in full sun. Like other bulbs, your garlic will sprout in spring and grow through the beginning of summer. To get the largest bulbs, keep your garlic well fed, watered in times of drought and weed free. The flower stalks (or scapes) of hardneck garlic should be removed to maximize bulb size. They are edible!
Garlic is harvested when the leaves start turning brown. You
want at least 4 of the leaves still have some green, otherwise the bulbs will split
open, start to lose their papery wrappers and will not store well. Garlic is
usually ready for harvest in our area by mid-July.
Harvest the bulbs carefully as they bruise easily when
fresh. Allow them to dry for two to 3 weeks in a well-ventilated, shaded area. Then
brush off any soil, cut off the dried tops and roots and store in a cool, dark
You can save some of your garlic bulbs to plant again next
year. Save the largest bulbs to get the biggest crop.