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GARDENER’S CHECKLIST: Week of February 17, 2022

If you're longing for a bit of color in the midst of this dark winter, look for flowering witch hazel plants. And be sure to plant some yourself for next winter.


* Get out the pruning shears. This is a good time to thin out multi-stemmed shrubs such as beauty bush, forsythia, lilac, mock orange, ninebark, spirea, viburnums, and weigela. Cut back to ground level the oldest canes; these are typically thicker-stemmed, and taller. As a rule, never prune out more than one-third of the stems. Pruning these shrubs every few years promotes healthy growth.

* Don’t put away the pruning shears just yet; it’s time to prune grapes. Grapes produce their flowers and fruit on new growth each year. Annual pruning is essential to promote ample amounts of new growth. Also, begin pruning apple and pear trees, but wait until March or April to prune peaches.

* Examine houseplants weekly for any dead flowers and leaves and remove them, as they may play host to certain diseases. Any shoots that appear wilted, despite regular watering of the plant, should be removed; wilting is a symptom of disease. While you are at it, check carefully for the buildup of pests, especially spider mites, on houseplants. As the amount of sunlight steadily increases at this time of year, pests of houseplants celebrate with orgies that lead to increased numbers of the critters. My preferential treatment of houseplant pests is repeated applications of insecticidal soap, a great way to break up an orgy.  Always read the label before using any pesticide, even those considered to be very safe such as insecticidal soap.

Cuttings of Thanksgiving cactus ready to be rooted.
You can root cuttings now of Thanksgiving cactus. Not only will it add to your collection of plants but also make good gifts for friends.

* Take cuttings from Thanksgiving and/or Christmas cactus. Either cut or twist off a length of stem with at least three stem segments. By the way, should anyone on the street stop and ask, each leaf-like stem segment is called a cladode. It’s often recommended that the cuttings rest for a few hours or for a day to allow the cut end to heal. This will prevent rotting. Insert the cuttings singly or several into a pot of moistened sand or seed-starting mix. The rooting medium should be kept moist but not saturated. Expect rooting to occur in about two or three weeks. By Thanksgiving or Christmas, there’ll be plants to add to your collection or to give as gifts.

* Examine bird feeders and remove any moldy seeds. Periods of rain and mild temperatures favor development of molds. Some molds produce chemicals toxic to birds.

* Buy a supply of soilless mix to use for starting flower and vegetable seeds indoors. Soilless mixes are cleaner than mixes containing soil.  Seedling disease, such as damping-off, is less likely to occur if seeds are sown in a soilless mix.


Witch hazel flowering in winter
The blossoms of witch hazels provide a bit of color in an otherwise drab winter landscape.

While it is not unusual to have some houseplants in bloom at this time of year, it is rare to see anything in flower in Berkshire landscapes. Yet, there have been years when I have had snowdrops in bloom in February. This year, I have seen some shrubs in bloom. They are all members of the plant genus Hamamelis, commonly known as witch hazel. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting my good friends and skilled horticulturalists Brian and Alice McGowan. Scattered throughout their home landscape were quite a number of different winter-blooming witch hazels. It was uplifting to see something in bloom in mid-winter. These will be on my list of shrubs to add to our landscape.


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I mentioned spongy moth caterpillars briefly last week. I hear Columbia County in New York has a tremendous outbreak now.

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We often referred to this project as the “house of glass” because there is glass everywhere.

The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.