The pace of things tends to slow down a bit this time of year in the garden. Although we may continue to plant, prepare beds, harvest winter vegetables and enjoy cool-season flowers, most gardeners find this a more relaxed time of year. This is especially true for high-maintenance jobs like mowing lawns, shearing hedges and watering. Lawn grasses and shrubs are dormant in winter, when cooler, wetter weather reduces the need for extra irrigation.
Taking a little time now can save time and money when you move into high gear next spring. Before you put away gardening equipment, consider a few winter preparations that can save delays and costly repairs next spring.
An important job is to make sure all gasoline is burned from any gas-powered equipment or add a stabilizer to the gas tank. This helps keep the lines and carburetor clear. It is also a good idea to place a few drops of oil into the sparkplug hole and crank the engine to lubricate the internals. If any piece of power equipment needs repairs or service, now is a good time to get that done so everything is in good shape and ready for work when you need it next year. Check the owner’s manual that came with the equipment for specific recommendations.
Other timely tips for gardening equipment, supplies and the landscape include:
– Disconnect, drain and store inside any water hoses that you will not need to use this winter. This extends their life and protects them from freeze damage.
– Clean and sharpen tools before you put them away. Wipe the metal blades with an oily cloth, coating them with a thin layer of protective oil that helps prevent corrosion. Coat wooden handles with protectants such as a sealer, tung oil or varnish.
– Store liquid pesticides in a locked cabinet in a location where they will not freeze. Some garden pesticides have a water base and may freeze if stored in an unheated shed during prolonged periods of below-freezing temperatures. If the liquid freezes, the container may be damaged, allowing the material to leak out when temperatures warm.
– If you harvested any seeds from your garden to plant next year, or if you have some packets of seeds left over from this year, place them in a plastic or glass container with a tight-fitting lid and store them in your refrigerator to keep them viable. Make sure you label the seeds with the type and when they were harvested or purchased. Try to use seed within a year of harvesting or purchasing them.
– Don’t forget to add to your compost piles the generous bounty of leaves nature provided this time of year, or use them to mulch shrub and flower beds. Shred the leaves by running over them with a mower with the bag attached so they will decompose faster. Also, sprinkle some fertilizer that contains nitrogen over each 1-foot layer of leaves. And don’t forget to keep the pile moist – not wet – to speed decomposition. Stockpile pine straw in plastic bags to use as mulch and for freeze protection.
We know at some point this winter temperatures will get cold enough that tropical plants in our landscapes will need protection. Plan for it now by deciding which tender plants you will choose to protect and which plants will be left to fend for themselves. Make sure you have enough materials on hand to protect those plants that you will cover. Suitable materials include plastic, fabric sheets, blankets, tarps and cardboard boxes to name a few. Each plant to be protected needs to have a covering large enough to extend to the ground. It also helps to have stakes available to drive into the ground around plants to help support the coverings over the plants and bricks to weight down the bottom edges of the covering.
Weeds will continue to grow here through the cool season. Do not let these unwanted bullies take over your flower beds. Oxalis, a clover look-alike, is one of the worst. For physical control, you must remove not just the foliage, but also the carrot-like root or bulbs below ground. Dig them out with a trowel. An alternative is to use a systemic herbicide, such as glyphosate (Roundup, Killzall and other brands). Only apply the spray to the oxalis foliage, and do not allow it to get on the leaves of any desirable plants nearby. In lawns, a broadleaf weed killer appropriate to use on the type of grass you have will do a good job eliminating oxalis and other cool-season weeds.
Why poinsettias and Christmas cactuses don’t bloom
Christmas cactuses, and occasionally poinsettias, are two holiday plants gardeners save from one year to the next. If you saved yours from last year and find they are not blooming now, the most common cause for flower failure in these two plants is exposure to artificial light at night.
Both are short-day plants, meaning that they form flower buds and bloom only when they are exposed to periods when the hours of darkness are longer than the hours of light each day. That is why they bloom this time of the year when nights are long and not during summer when nights are short. Christmas cactus plants are also induced to bloom when night temperatures are in the fifties. Keep this in mind next year if you want them to bloom.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu.