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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

Snatch branches from pussy willows and flowering shrubs

Pussy willows are busting out all over. Forsythia buds are starting to swell as are flowering quince, cherries, almond, weigela and crab apples.     Cut those pussy willows ASAP and tie them in small bunches. Then hang them upside down in a darkened shed or garage so they will dry straight. If you dry them standing, the catkins will bend outward and separate from the stems more easily. Do not put the stems of fresh-cut pussy willow in water.

Prune blackberries and ­raspberries; mulch strawberries

With the weather cool but comfortable to work outside, the time is right to prune both blackberries and raspberries.

Consider your space as you plan your vegetable garden

For the best harvest, plan before you plant. Crowded plants that have to compete for light do not produce a good crop and often have disease and insect problems. Here’s how I plant my garden to give each plant the best chance.     Sweet corn should be planted in blocks, not single rows. Four to five short rows of sweet corn sown six to eight inches apart in two-foot-wide rows will produce higher quality ears due to better pollination.

And it will be good to you

A Bay Weekly reader asked how to care for a potted cyclamen she received from a friend.     Cyclamen make excellent potted plants, as they come in a large selection of colors and flower for a long time with minimal care. However, the cyclamen has a dormancy requirement, and it will tell you when it is ready to take a rest.

Here’s how to tell

If you want to be sure your seeds will sprout, buy fresh ones this season. Fresh seeds have a higher percentage of germination and germinate faster than old seeds.      

My six favorite catalogs for dreaming and ordering

Seed catalogs begin arriving in my mailbox with the new year. Is there a benefit in ordering from catalogs? Or is it just as good to buy seeds locally?     The variety of seeds at garden centers, hardware stores and some grocery stores is rather limited. Some like to tell customers that the seeds were especially selected for our area. It has been my experience that many seeds sold locally are chosen to provide dependable varieties that have survived the test of time.

Some varieties want winter pruning

If your roses have grown tall and have been in the ground for less than a year, pruning them back to within 18 inches of the ground will minimize wind whipping, which loosens the roots in the soil.     Grafted roses also need pruning to avoid damage to the graft union. You can identify grafted roses by the enlarged stem near the ground where the hybrid rose was joined to rootstock. Prune those tall stems back to about 18 inches from the ground.

If you’ve grown horseradish, it’s time to harvest and prepare it

Did you remember to plant horseradish? If so, you’re in for a treat.     Horseradish is a hardy herbaceous perennial plant that produces fleshy roots. Now that the tops of horseradish plants have died back to the ground, it is time to dig up the roots and make next year’s supply of ground horseradish.     Some of the roots are carrot-like but most are smooth and slender, averaging one-half to three-quarters-inch in diameter and growing horizontally in the ground.

This bright flowering holly was first found in a nearby bog

Winterberry shows at its best this season, inviting you to cut it for Christmas decorating. The native deciduous forms of holly grow as shrubs six to eight feet tall. At this time of year, the ends of the branches are filled with clusters of bright red berries.

These tropical plants demand warmth and sun

A tropical plant that originated in Mexico, the poinsettia is very susceptible to chilling temperatures. If you purchase your plant on a cold day, wrap it completely before moving it from the store to your car. Place it in a sleeve stapled at the top to prevent rapid heat loss and to keep cold air from blowing onto the plant. As soon as you start the car, turn on the heat to a comfortable temperature.