University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article

Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Cleaning bird feeders, storing root vegetables, and protecting trunks of young trees, are some of the garden activities for this month.

Before winter bird feeding begins, clean your feeders with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Scrub with a brush and rinse thoroughly.  This will prevent old and moldy seeds from harboring diseases which can make your birds ill.

Dispose of rotting fruit on the ground, and mummified fruit still on fruit trees, to reduce disease. Rake up and dispose of fall leaves beneath fruit trees.

If you have a proper root cellar or another method of storing root vegetables, go ahead and harvest them. If you don't, then wait to harvest. Instead, cover mature plantings of carrots, beets, and parsnips with a thick layer of straw. This will insulate the soil and prevent the ground from freezing, and you'll be able to harvest fresh produce into early winter by moving aside the straw and digging the roots.

To prevent sunscald and frost cracking on young, thin-barked trees, such as maples, wrap the trunks with tree wrap or paint the south- and southwest-facing sides of the trunk with white latex outdoor paint. This will reflect the warming rays of the sun so the tree bark doesn't heat up on winter days, only to be suddenly cooled when the sun sets and the temperatures plummet.

If you are planning to buy a live Christmas tree that you'll plant after the holiday is over, dig and prepare the planting hole now before the soil freezes. Once you've dug the hole, place the soil from the hole in a nonfreezing garage or basement.  Make sure you cover the hole with boards or similar, so no one falls in!  When you're ready to plant, water the tree well before placing it in the hole, cover the root ball with soil up to where the roots flare out at the base of the trunk, and water again.

Plant amaryllis bulbs in a soilless potting mix, setting the bulbs so that the top third of the bulb is above the soil line. Plant one bulb in a pot that's only slightly larger than the bulb. Or, plant three bulbs in a larger container, spacing them about an inch apart. Place the container in a sunny, warm (70 degrees) room, keep soil moist, and soon you'll see sprouts followed by a flower stalk and buds. Once the flowers begin to open, move the container to a slightly cooler, more shaded location to make the flowers last longer.

Plant spring bulbs now in pots, to force into bloom indoors this winter.  Plant in a well-drained potting medium in shallow containers.  Four tulips or three large daffodils in a six-inch pot, or one hyacinth in a four-inch pot, gives a good show.  Keep bulbs in a cold place (about 40 degrees) to produce roots, but don't let them freeze.

Most spring bulbs need about 12 weeks of cold.  An old refrigerator or unheated garage works well.  In mild winters with good snow cover, you may have luck burying pots in the ground outside.  When shoots emerge, (February to March), place pots in warmth (60 to 65 degrees is good) and light.  Flowers should develop in several weeks.

For paperwhite narcissus, simply pot shallowly and keep at 50-60 degrees, for blooms in about 6 weeks.  These bulbs don't need cold in order to bloom.

For more gardening tips this month and the rest of the year, order your copy now of the North Country Garden Calendar from the Vermont Master Gardener program ( or call 802-656-2630).  In addition to daily tips and important dates, frequently asked questions and their answers are given for each month.  This affordable calendar is a collaborative effort of the Extension systems of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.  They make great holiday gifts as well!

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