Welcome to Meteorological Winter

December 1 began meteorological winter, which is different from astronomical winter.

Meteorological winter is based on the three coldest months–December, January and February. Astronomical winter is based on the solstice, which this year happens on December 21.

So, since we’re in meteorological winter now, I thought I would see what my squirrels were thinking. For newer readers, what I am relying on is the time tested (sort of) tradition that squirrels build their nests based on their foreknowledge of winter cold. The higher up in a tree a squirrel builds its nest, the colder the winter will be.

I ask you, does this make any sense? No. But it has seemed to hold true for almost every winter that I have consulted the nests. So let’s look up at some nests.

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This is the squirrel’s nest on my property. It’s a little hard to see because it’s almost at the top of this oak. Clearly, my squirrels are thinking “cold winter.”

And I wouldn’t disagree with them. November ran well below average, except in snowfall and rainfall.

But that’s not the whole story.

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There are two nests in this tree (again, if you can’t see them, my apologies. This time of year, we’re all still cleaning up leaves, and I couldn’t get near anything because of leaf piles–which is still better than snowdrifts!)

These trees are on my neighbor’s property, directly across from my house and my oak. In the tree on the left–the one nearest their house–there are 2 nests. One is on the lowest branch and another just slightly higher. So their squirrels are thinking different things than mine.

So perhaps the “split decision” this winter means exactly that: periods of very cold weather followed by not so cold. I’ll take that!

Nature Got a Little Confused

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This was the scene just a week ago–roses in about 7 inches of snow.

Now, yes, Connecticut has gotten snow earlier than this, and it’s even gotten more snow earlier than this, with catastrophic results. But this still isn’t common, as these blooming roses indicate!

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This is a very wintery scene from my backyard. Much of this is gone now because we’ve had a couple of very cold rains (36 degrees and rain–ugh–but at least it wasn’t more snow–or ice!)

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Here you can see how many leaves were still on the trees when the snow fell.

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And finally, this is my raised bed. I didn’t grow much that was edible in here this year because of last year’s poisoning. Still, I put some parsley in it, hoping for some swallowtail larva. I got a few near the end of the season, meaning, I hope, that our washout of a summer has finally cleansed this bed and I might at least be able to grow edibles again next year.

But notice the spikes standing up right at the front of the photo–that’s evidence that something was eating the parsley right before the snow fell–so again, at least the parsley’s edible!

At this point, summer seems a long way off–but as Mark Twain once said, if you don’t like the weather here, wait 5 minutes!

How Does A Gardener Get Through Winter?

If you are a gardener living in a tropical paradise, you “don’t” get through winter–you just keep on gardening.

And while I have always said that I welcome the break from “true” outdoor gardening that 4 seasons bring, I find myself doing certain things to “get through” the cold and dark days up here in the frozen north of New England.

One of the most important things that I do is force bulbs. And I don’t just force the tender bulbs like amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus (although I do that too–I’ll have separate posts on those!)

I force bulbs that the rest of us grow outside in the ground here in New England. In fact, this year, I bought so many that I did plant my extras outside so I got the best of both worlds. I have bulbs for forcing inside and I’ll have bulbs coming up outside in my landscape in the spring. That’s what’s known as a bonus!

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Specifically, I always force hyacinth. I’ve been doing this so long I have a nice collection of these forcing jars (or forcing vases, they’re sometimes called). You can often buy them with a bulb already started but I don’t think that’s how I got them. I seem to recall getting these–or most of them–from gardening catalogs. They don’t seem to sell just the vases online too readily anymore.

My preferred colors are purple and white and that’s an easy mix to find.

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Last year, when I was cleaning up my potting room, I also found these great little forcing vases. I have snowdrops in them.

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And this year, again when I was cleaning up, I found these little forcing vases. I am forcing crocuses here. I also planted some crocuses in a small flower pot. Because they’re corms, they have these odd little protrusions on them. Originally, I had tried them in the same jars with the snowdrops but they were too big. So finding these other vases was great. My crocus mix is also purple and white.

I have about 20 of each of the bulbs so I have lots to force when these finish. I am keeping them in a cool place so they’ll be ready when these finish up. As the season wears on, it will take less and less time for each of these bulbs to be “forced,” (because I am keeping them cool so they will already be chilled).

As it is now, the smaller bulbs will want 8-10 weeks and the hyacinths will want 10-12. That means they’ll be ready for me in the true dead of winter–when I want them most!

Don’t Panic, This is Perfectly Normal

And now a break from our house plant discussion, to mention something else.

Last Friday, when I showed the photo of the Fiddle-leaf Fig, sharp eyed viewers may have noticed something from the window behind the fig. There was something that looked like straw out that window.

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Here it is for those of you that were too busy looking at the fig. Yes, this is my back lawn–under a bed of pine needles.

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Here are some shrubs, under the same bed of those same needles.

What on earth is happening? Are all my pine trees dying?

Well, thankfully not, although you wouldn’t know it from the needle drop. This happens to evergreens, more or less (this year it’s more) every autumn. I suspect the needle drop is heavier because we had a very wet spring, summer and fall; therefore there are more needles to drop.

All evergreens, both broadleaf (hollies, rhododedrons, mahonias and the like) and needled drop a portion of their foliage every autumn. It’s just that in some years, that “drop” is much more pronounced than in others. And if the “drop” is particularly heavy–or if you are new to gardening or new to a particular type of evergreen, this may be new to you. Don’t panic–it’s okay.

If you are concerned that something is NOT normal, by all means, take a branch or small piece (in a sealed plastic bag) in to your nearest garden center or cooperative extension service. They should be able to tell you whether what’s going on is normal for your plant, or if you have an issue that needs addressing.

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But if you have a tree that looks like this, don’t worry–’tis the season!

Fall is for Planting

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Most of the summer, I looked at this dead tree. It was a star magnolia. It went into last winter without a problem, but it didn’t form its buds, as magnolias do. Perhaps that should have been my first clue that there would be a problem this spring.

Sure enough, this spring, when all the other trees began to flush leaves or blooms, this magnolia did nothing. The Spoiler, ever the optomist, kept saying, let’s just see what happens. By mid-July, it was obvious even to him nothing was going to happem

So we finally cut it down. It is in morning sun, so that gives me some nice options.

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I left the self-sown goldenrod on one end of the bed.

In the rest of the bed, I put my “test” plants that had been accumulating all summer. There are 6 veronica (3 blue and 3 white), 2 pink perennial pelargoniums, and 2 smaller hydrangeas.

I also put a dwarf joe pye weed in, and I left some self-sown asters as well. I need some pollinator plants, after all (although the bees loved the veronica all summer, even in pots!)

Generally planting in fall is much better for plants because the soil is still warm. For those of you who live near any type of water, you know how long the water takes to warm in the spring–soil is similar.

Likewise, in the fall, water stays warmer longer than the air–that’s why maritime communities get frost a little later. Again, soil cools more slowly than the air so planting into the fall actually aids the plants by settling them into warm soil.

I will want to watch these–& perhaps mulch them once the ground freezes–so that they don’t “heave up” out of the soil. But otherwise, no other special care is needed.

I still have some bulbs to add here, but nature hasn’t been my friend on the timing–as usual, the rain on the weekend isn’t conducive to bulb planting.

A Different Kind of “Watering”

This lovely gallery of mushrooms is just a small sample of what’s in my yard. There are some even more exotic ones around my neighborhood and I swear I saw something resembling a portobello at work.

It’s all courtesy of the “monsoon September” that we had. I counted almost 14″ of rain at my house, although the official rainfall total at our airport was about half that. I will bet that they don’t have nearly the good variety of mushrooms that I do either!

After another 2.75″ on October 2, these sprang up.

One looks suspiciously like a death cap–I am not testing things out!