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Gardening Q & A

Today’s Common Gardening Questions…Answered!

When can I plant my Tulips & Daffodils?

Most bulbs do best if you wait to plant until we’ve had a frost… that’s usually a good indicator that the soil has cooled enough to prevent top growth. If we do not get a frost by mid-October, I’d say go ahead and get them planted. They can easily be planted as late as Thanksgiving if need be.

There are exceptions to this rule. Iris, Colchicum, and fall blooming crocus should be planted as soon as they’re available (mid-August to mid-September).  Winter Aconite, Chionodoxa, Snowdrops, Lilies, Surprise Lilies, and Fritillaria should all be planted as soon as possible to prevent the bulbs from drying out.

What should I be doing to get my garden tools ready for winter?

If you take care of your gardening tools, they will work well and last for decades! After you’ve completed your gardening work for the fall, it’s time to clean, repair, sharpen, and store your tools for the winter. Metal tools should be cleaned by removing all dirt and plant debris with a wire brush. Use steel wool on smaller tools and medium grade sandpaper on larger ones to remove rust. Shovels and pruners should be sharpened; if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, bring your tools to a hardware store that provides sharpening services. Apply a coat of lubricant such as WD-40 to protect the metal and prevent rust. Wooden handles may be sanded to remove splinters and rough spots, and then coated with linseed oil to protect the wood. Make sure your tools are stored where they will remain dry over the winter.

I planted some evergreens and shrubs this spring. Can I stop watering now?

Newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials continue to need water until the ground freezes. Around Madison, the ground usually freezes in early December! My advice is to continue to water weekly until the leaves fall from the trees. After that, water every 10-14 days through Thanksgiving weekend. This is especially important for evergreen plants, because they lose water through their leaves over the winter, but cannot draw any up from the frozen soil. If we receive an inch of rain in a week, it isn’t necessary to water that week.

When should I cut back my perennials?

If you want to cut back your perennials in the fall, you should wait for the foliage to turn yellow or brown. After they die down, cut the remainders of the plants down close to the ground. Most grasses are best left over the winter and cut back in March or early April.

Waiting until early spring to cut down your perennials is beneficial in several ways. Dried seed heads and grasses provide winter interest, as well as food and cover for birds and other wildlife. The tops of the plants provide extra protections for the crowns of the plants for the winter. It also gives the gardener a task to do on warm days in early spring when you want to be outside but the soil is too cold and wet to dig!

How do I get my roses ready for winter?

If you have a hardy shrub rose (such as Knock Out® or Drift®), the short answer is leaving it alone! Almost every rose that comes back to us dead in the spring was cut back hard in the fall. Stop pruning and deadheading your shrub roses on September 1st. Pruning keeps the rose in active growth and prevents the plant from hardening off for the winter. A few inches of organic mulch (bark/leaves/straw) over the roots will protect them from sudden freezes and thaws.

Tea roses and other grafted roses are another story. Pile six inches of soil/compost/mulch up around the base of the plant after the leaves drop (late October or November). At this point many people use a rose cone to provide extra protection; cut the tops of the stems down enough so the cone fits over the top, and secure the bottom of the cone with stakes or by piling soil around the base. Make sure to remove the cone by the beginning of April so the plant doesn’t start growing in the dark!

How do I get my Christmas cactus to bloom?

Holiday Cacti are triggered to bloom by cooler temperatures and uninterrupted darkness for more than 12 hours a night. The easiest way to accomplish this is to place them in a sunny window in a room that you don’t use after sunset. Make sure not to use lights in this room very often, because that can interrupt blooming.

The other method is to cover the plant with a box or heavy blanket for 14 to 16 hours a day. After several weeks, buds will begin to form, after which you can stop covering your plant.

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