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Begin cutting back the leaves and dead flower stalks of herbaceous perennials hit by last weekend’s hard freeze. Some gardeners prefer to leave the foliage of perennials intact through winter because, they claim, it captures snow which in turn provides a winter cover for the plants. I may do that for some plants that have attractive seedheads on spent flower stems but I will definitely cut back any leaves that were infected with disease this past growing season.
c Rake up fallen pine needles and store them in bags, garbage cans or other containers. Use the pine needles later this fall after ground has frozen to mulch flower and shrub borders.
c Be careful to neither over-water nor over-fertilize houseplants. As the days shorten and sunlight becomes less intense, plant growth slows and a plant’s need for water and nutrients decreases. On the other hand, increase the amount of light to plants such as potted geraniums, succulents, ficus species, ponytail palm and aralias by supplementing natural light with that from grow lamps or other artificial light sources.
c Pull up frost-killed stems and vines of tender vegetable crops and toss onto the compost pile.
c Turn over vacated sections of garden now devoid of plants. By doing this, you’ll bury plant remnants too small to remove to the compost pile. Better that this organic debris be worked into the soil now rather than be left on the soil surface. They’ll contribute organic matter to the soil.
c In recent weeks, I’ve given several talks on growing garlic to different audiences. As part of the presentation, I challenge participants to taste one of my garlic chips, which are nothing more than dehydrated slices of garlic. It always surprises them how spicy the chips taste. I let them know that the fresh garlic I used to make the chips also tastes spicy. Most likely, the reason they are surprised at the taste is they have been eating only garlic from their super market. Garlic sold in food markets is typically a variety that is very mild in flavor and is grown in California, or more likely, in China. To get the more intensely flavored garlic, you have to grow your own. The preferred varieties for the New England climate are called hardneck garlic, so named because a stiff shoot grows from the center of the developing bulb. This shoot or hardneck is called a scape. This is my roundabout way of saying that now is the time to plant garlic. It is a very easy crop to grow. Bulbs can be obtained at farmer’s markets and local garden centers. Do not use super market garlic for planting since they are not usually varieties best suited to this region. Before planting, prepare the soil by working in plenty of organic matter, a smattering of wood ash – for its calcium and potassium – and some cottonseed meal or alfalfa meal. Separate garlic bulbs into individual cloves and plant these about 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Cover the planting with straw mulch. Next year, you may surprise your unsuspecting friends by having them taste your home-grown spicy garlic, but keep a supply of breath mints handy.