* Begin perusing those seed catalogs that have been arriving daily. Though I buy many seeds locally, I will order from catalogs those varieties that are not available at local stores. Seed catalogs can also be useful references and inspire ideas when compiling next year’s seed list. If ordering via catalogs, act soon as many seed companies are warning that supplies may not last long due to the surging interest in gardening, especially vegetable gardening.
* Test the viability of flower and vegetable seed leftovers from previous years. To test, simply place a sample of 10 or 20 seeds onto a moistened paper towel. Fold the paper and place each sample in a zip-lock bag or a quart-sized jar. If sampling more than one seed packet, label each piece of paper towel with the plant name or a code number or letter to help you keep track of the seed being tested. Place the bag(s) or jar in a warm location with a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. After 5 days, begin checking each sample daily for signs of seed germination. If less than 60 percent of the seeds of a particular variety have sprouted after no more than 3 weeks, buy fresh seed.
* Dig a planting hole now if you’re planning on buying a living Christmas tree this year. Store soil dug from the hole in a place where it will not freeze so that it can be used as backfill when the tree is planted right after Christmas. Living Christmas trees should not be kept indoors for more than a week. In the meantime, keep the tree in an unheated garage or shed and water the root ball frequently.
* Use yellow sticky traps to capture those tiny flies that pop out of the soil when watering houseplants. These annoying critters are called fungus gnats. They live in the soil where they lay eggs that hatch into very tiny white worms. Sometimes after applying water to a potted plant, you may see the worms wriggling on the soil surface. The adult gnats are attracted to the yellow sticky traps, and, of course, get stuck in the sticky coating. The traps may also be used to control winged aphids and white flies. These traps are readily available at garden centers.
* Include gardening related items on your holiday gift list. With the social isolation prompted by COVID-19, it seems that a greater percentage of the population is engaging in some form of gardening, even if it’s only maintaining a few houseplants. By golly, that should cut down on some of the angst involved in holiday shopping. Let’s see, there are decorative pots, garden tools, gardening books, bulbs for forcing, gift certificates to garden centers, etc., etc., etc.
* Pot up some paper-white narcissus bulbs for forcing. These bulbs are very easy to force. They can be planted in bowls or shallow pots using potting soil, pebbles, or small polished stones or marbles as a potting medium. When planting, place the bulbs close together, but not touching, and leave the top half of the bulbs exposed. Water the potting medium and place the pots of bulbs in a cool, dark location until shoots begin to appear. Then move the pots to a spot where they’ll be exposed to moderate light and temperature. It will take about 3 to 5 weeks for the bulbs to bloom, just in time to help us deal with the post-holiday blues.
* Examine fruits and vegetables that are in storage and cull those that are overly mature. That’s technical talk for “pick out the rotten ones and toss them onto the compost pile.”