Cold Weather Makes Me Think of Bulbs

Bulbs and Forcing Jars

As soon as the weather turns, I immediately think about bulbs. When I was younger, I used to plant bulbs outdoors. Now I “cheat” and force them inside instead. Not only is it a lot easier on the body (no kneeling in cold wet clay soil–and worse yet, no digging in it!), but the gratification comes earlier in the spring as well.

The only downside is that bulbs forced in water have to be composted so it’s not the most sustainable practice. But then again, planting bulbs in clay soil wasn’t always so sustainable either. They were very susceptible to rotting and after all my efforts, I might have nothing to show for it in the spring.

You can tell that I have been doing this for some time by the collection of forcing jars that I have acquired. What’s nice about this is that I start some now and as they finish, I start new bulbs. Since the bulbs have been kept cool, as winter goes along, each successive forcing takes less time.

The bulbs that I start this week may bloom after New Year’s. The next set may bloom in 6 weeks or so. Then after that, it’s very fast–2 weeks or so per forcing. I have the constant joy of bulbs all over the house!

If you have never tried forcing your own bulbs, try it. You can grow them in soil too. I mostly grow hyacinths because I love the scent. But just about everything forces. Think of a flower show if you have ever been to one. They always have masses of forced bulbs there.

There are great books–and of course the internet–to tell you specifically about the timing of each bulb. But bulbs should be on sale now. Pick up a package and try something new!

So Far, The Squirrels Are Right

October snow

So this might not look impressive, but it actually is the second largest snowfall on record for October for Connecticut. Some places got almost 6″. We got about a third of that.

What this means, however, is that if it snows in November and December this year–which is likely–we will only have had 4 months without snowfall in 2020 (June–September). That’s a little crazy. This is not Colorado.

Then again, just because this is 2020, this year Connecticut had more tornadoes than Oklahoma City. So it’s been a strange weather year all year.

And of course I spent most of the summer talking about the drought. June through August was our driest weather period on record. Luckily we seem to have made up some of our rainfall deficit–some of it–by picking up moisture from the tail ends of the gulf hurricanes. We had 5″ of moisture in October–some of it as snow, of course, but I will take what I can get.

But back to the squirrels in my title. After the snow, it got very cold–down into the low twenties. There was black ice everywhere. What wasn’t snow covered had hoar frost or rime ice.

And as I was walking the dog, chunks of ice were falling from the trees.

You can see one of these chunks in the middle of the oak leaves. It wasn’t the nicest walk.

So score one for the squirrels being right about the cold, at least so far. Let’s see what the rest of winter brings–and technically, it’s still fall!

Almost Ready Fruit

Variegated Lemon

Every harvest is easy when you grow container fruit. Of course, just as it’s easy for the grower, it is easy for any critters might be local to the grower’s area.

I was fortunate this year. I was able to grab my figs away from the squirrels and chipmunks before they got to them. If you were reading earlier in the season, you saw that I had to harvest my tomatoes while they were still practically green to avoid losing them to squirrels, chipmunks and birds.

I also lost 3 of my 4 lemons this year. I think a couple actually blew off in the tropical storm in early August. One was definitely carried away by a squirrel–I saw its teeth marks in it. And surprisingly, one still hangs on. I was surprised to see it when I watered the other day.

And I have these, shown above. The plant is labeled as a kumquat but I think that it’s just a variegated lemon. That’s actually okay. It appears odd enough to fake out the critters, and I can always use more lemons!

Do Squirrels Predict Weather?

Squirrels nest

At the top of the tree in the middle of this photo–the tree that has lost all its leaves–you can see a ball of leaves. That’s a squirrels nest. Folklore says that the higher up in a tree that the squirrels build their nests, the colder the winter will be.

So someone forgot to tell every forecaster that exists about this little bit of lore. All of the major weather services, from NOAA to the commercial types like AccuWeather and the Weather Channel are predicting warm winters for us.

The 2 Almanacs are predicting bitter cold. Maybe they consulted the squirrels.

But time will tell, of course. And in the long run, it matters far more to the squirrels than it does to us humans who can hunker down in our homes and don’t have to live in trees!

Lean, Lean, Lean

Leaning philodendron

When I was in graduate school, I went to an ACC football powerhouse. The school sent 2 quarterbacks to the pros in the 3 years I was there. I went to every home football game–it was exciting.

One of the cheers I vaguely remember ended with the phrase “and lean, lean, lean…” and everyone in the stands would lean one way, then the next.

It was a fun thing for football. For house plants, not so much. This time of year, you may find them reaching for what little sun we get. And it’s only going to get worse, depending on where you live.

In my part of the country, November through February are some of the cloudiest days of the year. When we most need sun, we are least likely to have it. So when it does shine, everything reaches for it–the plants stretch toward it, my dog finds a spot to lay in it–everything wants that light and warmth.

This is natural, but you’ll have make sure to turn your plants when you’re watering. You don’t want to grow a plant with a perpetual bend!

House Plants Slow Down for Winter

When I first brought my plants in from their little “summer vacation ” outside, I found that the ones in the south windows needed water twice a week. It was almost as if they were still outside and needing that constant moisture that they had been getting there.

It’s now been 5 weeks and they’re back on the indoor schedule. Just in this last week, they haven’t needed that mid-week drink. Some of those that I checked this weekend didn’t even need water after a full week. So growth is definitely slowing as the light diminishes.

It’s also getting cooler. And of course, as it gets cooler outside, it gets cooler inside my house. I talk about how cold we keep our house. Yesterday it was 62 degrees when I got up–that’s almost winter cold for the plants. So they will use less water–and if I don’t adjust, I will rot their roots.

Finally, not that I ever feed my house plants, but if I were so inclined, this is definitely the time to stop. With less light, less warmth and growth slowing for the winter, no feeding is needed.

If you are a house plant feeder, you can resume again when growth and light returns. For me, that’s early March. In the southern hemisphere, it would be just the opposite. They are just coming out of their winter now, so now is that time.

Poinsettia Myths

Pink Poinsettia

Remember this plant from last year?

It looks a little different now–and yet, I am expecting a bloom somewhere around the holidays or shortly thereafter.

Notice where this plant is located. It’s on a sunny southern windowsill. I have no idea how many foot candles of light it is getting but what’s important here is that it’s not in a closet or under a box–aren’t those the usual crazy places that you’re supposed to put these plants in order to force them to bloom? I ask you, if you were continually shoved in and out of a box, would you bloom? I sure wouldn’t!

The key to getting a poinsettia to bloom somewhat naturally is to keep it in a room that you don’t generally use in the evenings. That way it gets the 12-14 hours of darkness it needs to re-bloom naturally.

One other myth. Poinsettias are not poisonous. The sap might be irritating to some people. But the plant is not toxic. Other holiday plants like mistletoe and holly are far more toxic. So don’t be afraid to have them in your home.