As the time changed this week and we lost an hour of daylight, I’ve been challenged to get anything done outside — which is why I keep a list of chores to consult during the shortest days of the year.
It’s that time of year again when I start to review my garden journal and to-do lists for fall and early winter. I’m the kind of person who can’t truly relax until I know a job is completed or until I’m up to date on my outdoor chores. In the summer that means checking and harvesting the vegetable garden before I sit down for dinner. This time of year, it means turning the compost a couple of times in the fading sunlight before I retreat indoors — where I proceed to stare out the window and curse the darkness.
As a wise person once told me, though, “There’s always something to do.” So instead of hanging up the shovel for the winter, I have a pretty lengthy chore list to keep me busy outside, even with the limited daylight. A few of these include mulching all outdoor beds, gathering and storing all stakes from the vegetable garden, hanging and storing all hoses, removing dead debris from the vegetable garden, cutting back perennials, raking leaves and tilling the raised beds.
One outdoor chore I’ve personally never given much thought to is the the fall and winter care of roses. I have only two roses in my landscape, but many gardeners have whole gardens full of this timeless plant. The Winston-Salem Rose Society has their own to-do list for overwintering roses, and many of these chores should be started now.
In November, the society recommends pulling back mulch from around all roses, which helps the soil cool faster. After a few frosts, put the mulch back to avoid fluctuations in soil temperature. Stop deadheading roses now, which will encourage the plant to go dormant. November and December are good times to apply lime. Before applying lime, a soil test is always recommended — ideally, roses want a pH of 6.5.
Early December is the time to prune your roses and add extra protection to less hardy cultivars. The rose society recommends pruning rose canes back to waist high, which keeps them more stable in winter winds. If left tall, the wind can rock the crown back and forth in the soil, weakening the plant. More tender varieties like lavender, yellow and white roses need extra mulch or a shovelful of sand layered on the crown of the plant.
There are also plenty of inside gardening chores that can be attended to during fall and winter. My number one priority on this front are my houseplants. As per usual, my small house has recently become a jungle — all the tender tropicals crammed into rooms with the most natural light. I have a routine in November to spend ample time with each plant — testing soil moisture, inspecting leaves for problems, and trimming and cleaning foliage.
Every year, I find that at least one of my houseplants has acquired scale, the telltale hard casings present on the underside of leaves and stems. Scale insects come in many forms, but the most common on houseplants is soft scale.
Scale insects are very small and harm a plant by sucking sap from foliage and stems, which causes the plant to lose vigor. The life cycle of scale includes eggs, crawlers and adults. Adult scale lay eggs under protective protective shells (hard casings), the eggs hatch and nymphs crawl out seeking food. Once they begin to feed, crawlers begin to form a protective shell around their bodies, and the cycle repeats itself.
Though this process happens on an almost microscopic basis, there are plenty of ways we can tell if a plant has scale. The most obvious signs are the hard shells attached to leaves and stems. These shells are easy to scrape off with your fingernail. Other signs are sticky leaves or a sticky floor around the plant. This is the honeydew or excretion from the insects, which falls from the plant as the crawlers feed. It may also appear as a sooty black substance with a sticky feel.
Depending on the severity of the infestation, scale can be treated. If I spot scale on one of my houseplants, the first thing I do is give it a bath. This could happen outside if it’s a warm sunny day, or in the bathtub if it’s too cold outside.
I clean each leaf and stem individually, scraping and wiping off the scale, continually rinsing with the hose. This is a methodical and time-consuming process, but is the most effective way to rid a plant of scale. I follow up this process with a thorough spray of Neem oil once the foliage has dried, just as a safety net. This helps to kill any remaining scale that I’ve missed.
If time doesn’t allow you to wash your plant, insecticidal soap or Neem oil should do the trick. But if you don’t wash the plant, you may have to treat it multiple times with Neem oil.
There also are systemic insecticides that can be applied to the soil and watered in. Always follow instructions on the label when applying these products.
I clean each leaf and stem individually, scraping and wiping off the scale, continually rinsing with the hose. This is a methodical and time-consuming process, but is the most effective way to rid a plant of scale. I follow up this process with a thorough spray of Neem oil once the foliage has dried. This helps to kill any remaining scale.
If time doesn’t allow you to wash your plant, an application of insecticidal soap or Neem oil should do the trick. There are also systemic insecticides that can be applied to the soil and watered in. Always follow instructions on the label when applying these products.
So whether it’s capturing a few moments outside or setting time aside indoors, make the most out of these shorter days. Gardeners rest easier at night when they’ve had some kind of contact with their muse. So keep your fingernails a little dirty, bide your time, and know that each day that passes is one day closer to spring.