Snowdrops

Enjoy spring flowering bulbs such as these snowdrops but make a list of bulbs you'll want to add to gardens in fall.

'Tis the season of wacky weather with wicked winds!

Just last week, there were two days on which record-high temperatures were set. Then, there was this week, with its mix of sub-freezing temperatures, rain, a bit of occasional snow, and the wicked winds that brought down a few trees and numerous branches, and caused power outages. My plans to plant peas, the first outdoor crop I sow in spring, were blown away in Monday’s gale-force winds.

The weather is not the only thing that is wacky. Our Thanksgiving cactus can’t make up its mind as to what it really is. It first bloomed around Thanksgiving, took a brief rest, bloomed again just in time for Christmas, took another rest, and came back into bloom last week just in time for Easter. So, is it a Thanksgiving cactus, a Christmas cactus or an Easter cactus?

Thanksgiving cactus

Blossoms of Thanksgiving cactus opening just in time for Easter.

Each of those three is a separate species. They can be distinguished from one another by their leaf characteristics. Actually, the “leaves” are stem segments. Thanksgiving cactus has tooth-like projections from its leaf segments; Christmas cactus has rounded or scalloped leaf margins; Easter cactus has small bristles extending from the leaf margins. Despite the name “cactus”, these are not desert plants. Rather, they are native to the forests in the coastal mountains of Brazil and grow mostly in organic debris in the crotches of tree branches.

All three species are short-day plants, that is, their flowering is initiated by daily exposure to at least 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness. Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti will bloom after a minimum of 6 weeks of short-days while Easter cactus won’t bloom until it has experienced 8 to 12 weeks of such treatment. Cool temperatures, i.e. 60 to 65 degrees F, favor flowering.

Since our Thanksgiving cactus spent most of the fall in a room that seldom received light at night, it is possible that it was initially prompted to bloom in response to short days. However, once it came into bloom it was moved to a plant bench in front of a window with southern exposure in our living room, where daily intervals of 12 hours of darkness were rare. Our thermostat is set at 68 degrees F, so it is possible that cool temperatures overcame the requirement for short days.

Despite an educational background in plant sciences, I am baffled to explain the repeated intervals of bloom, rest and re-bloom in the absence of the required short-day exposure. Perhaps, it is a Thanksgiving cactus with a penchant for celebrating holidays. Or, it may be the work of a wizard hidden among the lush stems.

NO CHORE WIZARDS NEEDED …

Blueberry pruning

Old non-productive blueberry canes can be cut back to ground level. New canes will rise from the remaining stub.

Here are a few tasks which are not baffling and do not need the intervention of wizards:

  • Revitalize the productivity of old blueberry bushes by removing canes older than 6 years. The most productive canes are typically between 3 and 6 years old. The bark of old canes, much like my mane, is grayish in color. In cases where old plants yield almost no berries, rejuvenate the bushes by cutting all the stems to ground level. This will not kill the plants but will promote new canes which will again produce berries in 2 to 3 years.
  • Continue pruning shrubs which flower on new growth this year. This may involve judicious cutting back of last year’s growth a little or, as in the case of low-growing shrubs, such as some spireas (3 feet tall), cut all the stems back by one-third to create a dome-shaped specimen.
  • Save your coffee grounds. They have several uses in the garden. For one, the grounds are high in nitrogen and can be worked into the soil prior to planting crops. The high nitrogen levels make the grounds a valuable addition to compost piles, where they balance the high carbon or so-called brown materials in the pile. Also, try scattering coffee grounds around seedlings to deter voracious slugs and snails.
  • Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer to asparagus and rhubarb … coffee grounds, perhaps.
  • Take time to enjoy the spring flowering bulbs emerging in gardens and grounds around your home. At the same time, determine what other species could be added to enhance your visual delights. Make a list and keep it handy when buying spring bulbs for fall planting.
  • Lightly overseed thin lawn areas, but first scarify the soil with a rake. Do this before grass starts to grow.
  • Remove mowing blades from the lawn mower and get them sharpened ASAP. Mowing with a dull blade tends to shred grass blades, leaving them prone to disease and dehydration. Begin mowing when grass is 4 to 4 1/2 inches tall and set the cutting height at 3 inches. That may seem tall for those who view their lawn as a golf green, but at that height, grass will be less stressed when hot, dry weather makes its appearance. Just be alert to any wizards hiding amid the grass blades.