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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

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.

Store-bought Christmas wreaths and roping may need resurrection

At a winter Saturday morning farmers market on Riva Road, a shopper approached me with a Christmas wreath problem. In a week on her door, a wreath she had purchased at a local big-box store was turning gray-green, and its needles felt dry.     I was not surprised.

My restored 1939 Allis-Chalmers B tractor gives me a fleet of two, going on three

In June 2007, I wrote a Bay Gardener column about restoring a 1949 John Deere B tractor. A Bay Weekly reader called to offer me an old tractor, which had belonged to his father-in-law.     When I visited, I found a neglected Allis-Chalmers B parked at the edge of a woods. It had not been operated for at least 10 years. It would no doubt be a real challenge to restore to operating condition.

There’s still time to plant short-day onions

Short-day onions generate their bulbs when daylight hours are less than 12. If you are going to plant onion plants this fall, make certain that you purchase only short-day varieties. Short-day varieties can be successfully transplanted as late as mid-December and still produce a normal crop.     Many of us will be planting almost that late, as Dixon Dale onion farm, one of the nation’s largest producers of onion plants, did not have plants ready to ship until mid-November.

We didn’t grow our own celery, olives or turkey

This year, our garden will be providing butternut squash, onions, garlic, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots and red and green peppers for the Thanksgiving table. We might include sauerkraut that was made and canned in 2010. If needed we could also include Siberian kale and collard greens, but I prefer roasted Brussels sprouts.