Sea­sonal pre­pared­ness re­quires au­tum­nal at­ten­tion

The Morning Call - - LIFE - Sue Kit­tek Sue Kit­tek is a free­lance gar­den colum­nist, writer, and lec­turer. Send ques­tions to Gar­den Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Gar­den Keeper, The Morn­ing Call, PO Box 1260, Al­len­town, PA 18105.

A re­cent lec­ture on Fall Pre­pared­ness re­minded me that con­tainer plant­ing, a re­ally pop­u­lar gar­den­ing prac­tice, re­quires some spe­cific at­ten­tion this time of year.

Sea­sonal planters, those you only use in the spring/sum­mer/fall, should be emp­tied, cleaned and stored. We do this be­cause the win­ter weather is not good for most planter ma­te­rial. Plas­tic pots be­come brit­tle and crack or split. Ce­ramic pots and terra cotta ones flake and crack as the wa­ter is ab­sorbed, freezes and ex­pands in any avail­able crack or crevice.

Dis­card an­nual plants — the healthy ones in the com­post heap, the dis­eased ones in the trash. Peren­nial plants can be cut back and kept wa­tered in their pots un­til the soil freezes. If you have pot­ted plants that re­main in the pots and out­doors, con­sider mov­ing the con­tain­ers to a pro­tected area and wrap­ping them with bub­ble wrap or burlap. Do not seal the wrap­ping, as the pots need to be able to re­act to the wet and dry, hot and cold weather.

What about the soil in the con­tain­ers? Well, avoid prob­lems with in­sects win­ter­ing over in the soil and soil-borne dis­eases by dump­ing the old soil, brush­ing out the pot and clean­ing it with a mild bleach so­lu­tion. Us­ing fresh pot­ting soil each sea­son in­creases your chances for healthy plants.

Do I al­ways dump the soil? Not re­ally, but I do use fresh soil for any­thing that is par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive or very im­por­tant to me.

An­other con­tainer sub­ject that comes to mind this time of year is us­ing spring flow­er­ing bulbs in con­tain­ers. You can plant some of your bulbs in con­tain­ers when you set them out this fall. Place the con­tain­ers in a cool but pro­tected area. The side of the house foun­da­tion, un­der a porch or in an un­heated garage all would work. If you plan on bring­ing the con­tain­ers in­side to force bulbs this win­ter, make sure that the pots are ac­ces­si­ble, not buried in the snow, and note that most bulbs re­quire sev­eral weeks (usu­ally 8 to 12) in a cool area, be­low 40°F, be­fore they will bloom.

An in­ter­est­ing op­tion for con­tainer bulb planters is lay­er­ing — plant­ing a va­ri­ety of bulbs that re­quire dif­fer­ent depths, and of­ten bloom at dif­fer­ent times — in the same con­tainer. Look for di­rec­tions for lay­er­ing bulbs or lasagna bulb plant­ing for ideas and spe­cific di­rec­tions.

Ba­si­cally, you add soil to the bot­tom of the pot then plant the largest bulbs first, add soil and move to the smaller ones, plant­ing each type at the proper depth for op­ti­mum re­sults. For ex­am­ple, plant tulips or large daf­fodils at the bot­tom, usu­ally about six inches deep, then some­thing of shal­lower depth for minia­ture irises, cro­cus and other small bulbs.

An­other plan would be to plant the same bulbs but use early, mid-sea­son and late-sea­son va­ri­eties for a long­bloom­ing con­tainer.

Stat­u­ary and or­na­ments

Your gar­den or­na­ments, the stat­ues, the bird­baths, and such re­quire sim­i­lar care.

Clean and store the smaller ones. Even cast resin stat­ues will crack and chip af­ter a few sea­sons, and the color will fade on many of them. Heav­ier, larger stat­ues can be left in place but should be pro­tected with a loose cover — burlap, plas­tic, bub­ble wrap, or a tarp, but not sealed to al­low for con­den­sa­tion and evap­o­ra­tion of any mois­ture that gets in.

Glass con­tain­ers, wind chimes and other or­na­ments are best brought in­doors. Like the pots men­tioned above, they will shat­ter in the cold weather.

For the birds

The hum­ming­birds are long gone and their feed­ers should be brought in, cleaned, and stored for next year. Bird­houses can be cleaned and left out. While a roost­ing box is a more prac­ti­cal op­tion for hous­ing dur­ing cold weather, some birds will shel­ter in a bird­house.

What’s a roost­ing box? It’s a struc­ture, sim­i­lar to a bird­house, but it usu­ally has the hole closer to the bot­tom of the box and fewer drainage and cir­cu­la­tion holes to pre­serve heat. The roost­ing box has sev­eral perches and the in­te­rior is left rough to al­low birds that cling to sur­faces to roost as well. The walls may be thicker than a bird­house for more in­su­la­tion, and the box is usu­ally larger than a bird­house to ac­com­mo­date more birds. Some have me­tal re­in­force­ment around the hole to de­ter preda­tors. Roost­ing boxes are gen­er­ally placed in shel­tered ar­eas. A south­ern ex­po­sure and a few hours of sun­light will al­low the box to heat up.

A pleas­ant meet­ing

Thank you to the mem­bers of the Coun­try­side Gar­den Club of Cen­ter Val­ley for their warm wel­come. I spoke at a re­cent meet­ing in the Hopewell El­e­men­tary School in Up­per Sau­con Town­ship. We had a good dis­cus­sion about the fall gar­den and all the things that need to be done. They were gra­cious and wel­com­ing. I even won one of the door prizes.


“I loved the col­ors and felt like it was a lit­tle vi­gnette,” painter Vonnie Whitworth said of “The Glass Wheel.”

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