Thursday, January 14, 2016

Timely Tips for Winter 2016

Photo courtesy Kristy

  • Seed catalog time! Be sure to look for disease and pest resistance when purchasing vegetable and flower seeds.
  • Know your plant hardiness zone.  Planting dates depend on the first and last average frost dates of your hardiness zone.  Bucks County is split into two zones. Search by zip code:
  • Plan your vegetable garden, rotating crops to discourage pests.
  • Start seeds of slow growers, such as parsley, thyme and rosemary.
  • When sowing seeds indoors, be sure to use sterile soil mediums to prevent diseases. As soon as seeds sprout, provide ample light to encourage stocky growth.
  • Make an inventory of the plants in your home landscape. Note their location and past performance. Plan changes on paper now.
  • Observe your garden’s "skeleton" and decide where to put new paths and structures like arbors.
  • Check for frost heaving on perennials and cover with extra mulch as necessary.
  • Now is the time to learn to identify trees by their winter twigs and buds!
  • Monitor trees & shrubs for winter damage.  Limbs damaged by ice or snow should be pruned off promptly to prevent bark from tearing.
  • Clean the dust from large and smooth-leaved houseplants like dracaena, philodendron and ficus on a regular basis. This allows the leaves to gather more light and results in better growth.
  • Monitor indoor plants for winter pests.  Fluffy, white mealy bugs are easily killed by touching them with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol.  Insecticidal soap sprays can be safely applied to most houseplants for the control of many insect pests.
  • Check stored summer bulbs and remove moldy, rotten, dried or shriveled bulbs.
  • Swap seeds and plant information with your gardening friends.
  • In February, if soil conditions allow, take a chance sowing peas, spinach and radish. If the weather obliges you’ll be rewarded with extra early harvests.
  • Prune forsythia, pussy willow, quince, etc. for forcing indoors.
  • On mild days, remove winter weeds like wild garlic and chickweed.

Kathleen Connally

Master Gardener Coordinator, Bucks County


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Christmas Tree-Cycling!

Photo © Ann Oro

Your Christmas tree is biodegradable and recyclable, so don't put it out with the trash ... reuse it in your garden!  Here are ten ideas after you've removed all the baubles, tinsel and hooks:

1) Place your Christmas tree, in its stand, near an existing bird feeder to provide protective cover for our feathered friends. Or make the tree into a naturalistic feeding station, hanging feeders, suet, fresh orange slices, peanut butter pine cones or strung popcorn from the branches. The birds will come for the food and stay for the shelter. 

2) Use evergreen boughs to insulate planting beds where perennial flowers, strawberries, parsley, carrots, pansies, etc., are trying to survive the winter.  The limbs can also act as a sunscreen and windscreen for broadleaf evergreens like boxwood, hollies, and rhododendrons. Be sure to remove limbs in the spring after the danger of severe weather has passed.

3) In spring when the Christmas tree limbs have lost their needles, use the bare stems to stake peas and vining vegetables, or perennials like delphiniums and peonies that need a little extra support.

4) Use the Christmas tree trunk (stripped of its limbs) as edging in a garden bed.

5) Use a chipper to shred the branches into mulch or a natural path material.  If you don't have a chipper, ask a local garden center or municipality to shred it for you and take the mulch home.

6) Start a new compost pile with a layer of thin Christmas tree branches. The branches allow airflow at the bottom and will break down over time as you continue adding kitchen scraps and other compostables.

7) Saw the trunk into small logs to burn in your outdoor fire pit. (Don't burn them in the fireplace because evergreens cause creosote buildup.)

8) Strip the branches of their needles and store them in a brown paper bag, which helps keep their aroma, and use the needles to make aromatic sachets or potpourri to enjoy the rest of the year.

9) Transition into spring by creating window boxes using Christmas tree branches cut to size. Add birch twigs, boxwood, preserved moss and sugar pine cones to fill in and add texture.

10) Create an eco-friendly alternative to rock salt by using Christmas tree boughs on your walkway. During a January thaw, let the boughs freeze into the ice for good traction and a pleasant scent... but leave your boots at the door so you don't bring sap into the house.

For more ideas, visit the National Christmas Tree Association at

Kathleen Connally
Master Gardener Coordinator
Penn State Extension
Bucks County, PA