Close-up of rosemary
Support your local birds! If you’ve been taking advantage of the relatively mild weather to continue garden cleanup, leave the dried flower heads on hydrangea, some clumps of ornamental grasses, and herbaceous perennials with seed heads for juncos, nuthatches, chickadees, bluebirds and other overwintering birds to use as food sources and housing through the winter.
Repot houseplants which have a white crust on the surface of the soil. This crust is the result of accumulation of soluble salts from fertilizers, water or the potting soil itself. Never re-use old potting soil. Always start with fresh soil when repotting.
Check on pumpkins and winter squash in storage. If they were not fully mature when harvested or not cured properly after harvest, they may be rotting by now. That may explain the odd odor you’ve been noticing of late.
Consider gift certificates to a retail garden center or nursery for the gardeners on your shopping list. I have mixed feelings about gift certificates as they seem a tad impersonal but that hasn’t stopped me from giving them. They are practical; they allow the receiver to make his or her own choices.
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I want to follow up on a couple of items mentioned in last week’s column. The first has to do with my suggestion to prune out dead, diseased and damaged branches from trees and shrubs. Recognizing damaged or diseased branches is usually not much of a problem, but with deciduous trees and shrubs having dropped their leaves it can be a little difficult at first glance to conclude that a branch or twig is dead. Here are some visual clues. The buds on a dead branch will be dried out and brittle and fall off easily when touched. Also, the end of a dead twig will usually be wrinkled. If the first two observations leave some doubt, scratch the bark on the suspect branch with your fingernail. The tissue underneath the bark will be brown if the branch is dead; it will be green or white if the branch is alive.
The second item in my follow-up has to do with idea of cutting sprigs of rosemary and lavender and incorporating these into holiday decorations. It has occurred to me that there is another very good use for sprigs of these herbs: Put some into bags of home-grown potatoes which you have stored. Huh? Several studies have shown that the volatile oils in these herbs, as well as in sage, are very effective in suppressing sprouting of potatoes. Other research has found that these same oils can reduce rotting of stored potatoes. Hmmm, wouldn’t a bag of spuds with a few sprigs of rosemary make a great Christmas present?