University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Three main questions we get asked in Extension this month include how to force bulbs indoors for winter bloom, how to get garden tools ready for winter, and the best way to feed birds.

If you have some bulbs left from planting outside in fall, or better yet, buy some varieties specially marked for forcing, now is the time to plant them if you haven't already.  Use a well-drained potting medium in shallow containers.  For a nice display, plant four tulips or three large daffodils in a six-inch wide pot, or one hyacinth in a four-inch pot.  You want to pot now, rather than wait until spring, so the bulbs can form roots before starting to grow tops.

Keep potted bulbs in a cold place (about 40 degrees F) to produce roots, but don't let them freeze.  Most spring bulbs need about 12 weeks of cold.  An old refrigerator, or unheated garage, may work well.  In mild winters, with good snow cover, you may have luck burying pots in the ground outside.

When shoots begin to emerge (February or March if held inside), place pots in warmth (60 to 65 degrees F) and light.  Keep moist, but not overwatered.  Flowers should develop in several weeks.

An exception to forcing bulbs in cold is the paperwhite and similar yellow narcissus.  These do not require cold to bloom.  Simply pot shallowly, and keep cool (50 to 60 degrees F) as in a cool entryway or closet.  As before, pot so the tops are above the soil surface.  For these, you may even pot in a jar of glass pebbles or marbles, or pot of marble chips.  Just make sure to keep water in the bottom of such containers.  You should have blooms in about six weeks.

According to Dr. Lois Berg Stack, of University of Maine Cooperative Extension, good tools should last a lifetime.  She recommends to scrape soil clods from hand tools after each use during the season.  Then rinse, and allow to dry in the sun.  At the end of the season, clean all tools thoroughly.  Scrub off rust spots with a wire brush or steel wool.

Now is a good time to sharpen spades, knives, and other cutting blades as on pruners and loppers.  You can use files just for this purpose, available at many hardware stores. There are special sharpening files and implements which may cost a little more, but make sharpening very quick and easy.  After sharpening, rub blades, tines, and other metal surfaces with vegetable oil to prevent rusting over the winter.

Prepare your lawn mower and rototiller for winter by draining the gas tank, or by adding a gas stabilizer to a full tank and running the motor for five minutes before storing.  Sharpen or replace the blades of the mower. Make sure you clean under the decks of riding mowers as well.  Old grass left there over winter can trap moisture, rusting the metal parts.  Clean the tines of tillers as you would clean metal hand tools.

Margaret Hagen, from the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, says that birds will visit feeders that are placed close to branches of trees and shrubs.  She suggests a mix of 50 percent sunflower seeds, 35 percent white millet, and 15 percent cracked corn to appeal to a wide cross-section of seed-eating birds.  I have found good luck just using black oil sunflower seeds.  You want to avoid very inexpensive bird seeds, as they provide very little energy over winter to birds.  In fact, I find they are more attractive to squirrels than the birds!  You should also try suet blocks in wire baskets, which are especially attractive to woodpeckers.

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