Summer bloomers can’t handle our winter weather

Cut back your summer-blooming annuals or just pull them and toss into the compost pile

The cold nights of November are often the death knell for tender annuals like coleus, marigolds and zinnias. Cut back these summer-blooming annuals once they turn brown or uproot them to add to the compost pile. Not only will late fall cleanup tidy up the garden but less dead foliage and flowers leaves less winter protection for slugs and snails.

If you have not yet brought tender succulents such as Echeverias indoors or if you want to try and overwinter tropical plants then make the move indoors quickly and avoid the urge to water your potted plants once they are inside for the winter. Tender succulents need a cool (but not freezing) location in bright light. A lack of water during the winter will help them stay dormant until spring when a few ounces of water can be offered to each plant as the longer days begin to stir their sap and wake them up. The trick is to give overwintering plants just enough moisture to keep them alive. Watch for shriveling of leaves or drooping and then add just a bit of water.

If you would like to overwinter geraniums, canna bulbs, begonia bulbs or any other plant that sometimes survives a mild Western Washington winter, remember it is the rain that often causes root rot and death more often than the low temperatures. Move potted cannas, fuchsia baskets or dahlias bulbs you have dug to a dry, cool, but not freezing location. Geraniums can be uprooted and hung from their roots in a garage or garden shed or left in pots but placed in a protected location out of the rain.

Don’t expect to have an attractive plant to add to the garden next spring. If often takes until July for these overwintered plants to bounce back from winter dormancy indoors. Learning what plants will make it and how to store them on your property is part of the fun of gardening. Experiment, be creative and remember that when it comes to taking cuttings, storing bulbs or overwintering plants you have nothing to lose and perhaps some free plants and new knowledge to gain.

Q. I have a rosemary bush about 4 feet tall. I love it and I use it. Should I trim off some of the long branches now or just let it be? I really enjoy your column. M.L., Tacoma

A. Step away from those pruning shears and do not start cutting woody branches from rosemary or any other tender plant during the month of November. Wait until you see signs of new growth in May or even June to get snippy with rosemary. Once you do prune, you can recycle any dead wood and your pruning crumbs to use as flavorful shish kabob skewers the next time you roast meat or veggies. You can also snip off the green tips of rosemary for occasional use during the autumn season but avoid cutting into thick, woody branches as any heavy pruning will wake your rosemary plant from winter dormancy. Wide awake plants are wimps in cold weather.

Yup, I did ruffle some feathers:

Remember that article I wrote about bird feeders and the problems they can attract? Well, as expected, there are some who think that column was for the birds. I heard from bird lover/bird feeder Katie Gundlach, the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Olympia. Just to present another view of bird feeding here is a quote from her respectful and thoughtful email:

“If quality seed is used in the right kind of feeder, all of the issues you raise about pests and weeds can be easily managed. Seed mixes purchased in big box stores may seem economical but almost always contain cheap filler seeds such as milo and large amounts of millet. Milo is not consumed by many, if any, birds and millet is consumed by ground-feeding birds but is likely to sprout. So as the birds sweep through the cheap seeds for something they want to eat, the seed gets thrown on the ground. There are also hot pepper products available to use as deterrents to mammals. Quality seed and seed blends contain only seeds that birds will actually eat and, in the right type of feeder, the mess on the ground can be prevented. Feeders can be caged to keep out crows and pigeons, eliminating that problem. Feeders can be placed on a pole and with a baffle at least 4 1/2 to 5 feet up the pole, rats, squirrels and raccoons can be kept out. Rats are attracted to many things besides bird feeders – pet food left out, messy garbage cans, greasy barbecues. It is true that feeders are only supplementing the bird’s diet, but it is an important source of high-energy food, especially in the winter months when they have fewer hours of daylight to forage. There is ample proof that feeding high quality seed and suet results in healthier populations.”

• • •

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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