Perennials: Wait until the ground freezes to mulch the garden. Continue to plant bulbs during mild weather. A thin cover of leaves over the bulb planting areas will discourage squirrels from digging up newly planted bulbs, although sometimes a screen box is the only solution.
Flowers: Cut flowers will last longer if fresh diagonal cuts are made under water daily. Commercial preservatives also will extend the life of a beautiful bouquet. The florists use wet Oasis, a block of porous material, which holds flower stems securely.
Vegetables and fruits: Potatoes in cold storage need to be kept dry. Make sure the air circulation is adequate. Apples, on the other hand, should not dry out. They will stay fresh in Styrofoam coolers in a cold spot in the cellar.
Trees and shrubs: Begin trimming evergreens for holiday decorations. Sprinkle with water and keep them in plastic bags until needed. Spray with an antidesiccant before bringing inside. Look for berries, cones, seed heads, and dried flowers for wreaths and swags. Fill outdoor urns with branches and berries. Dig a hole for a “live” Christmas tree and store the soil where it won’t freeze, so that you can plant it outside after Christmas.
Lawns: Continue removing leaves from the lawn for the compost pile, or just mow and mulch them in place. After the final cleanup there are always more blowing in from the neighbor’s trees. Westchester regulations prohibit feeding lawns between Dec. 1 and April l to protect the watershed from runoff.
Houseplants: Poinsettias saved from last year should not receive nighttime illumination, which prevents blooming. Keep the plants in a closet and expose them to natural daylight, maintaining even soil moisture and keeping them out of drafts. Shop early for the best selection of fresh poinsettias. If red clashes with the décor try the coral and white varieties. Christmas cactus in bud and bloom are especially sensitive to any fluctuations in their care. Keep them in east or west light and don’t move them.
General: Make sure bird feeders are kept filled once they are in place. The birds will depend on this food source, and they will bring their friends, until warm weather arrives in the spring. The birds also need a water source.
Susan Henry, master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester