Help for gardeners: preparing for the holidays

Many of us put up elaborate displays every holiday season, and with a little planning, we can make things easier. As you take down Halloween decorations, examine them for damage, repair them, and/or make a list of replacements needed for the next year. Watch the sales for great items at reduced prices. Then store in sturdy, labeled containers.

Then plan your next display and take inventory of your decorations, remember your neighbors and prevent displays from blinding them or music disturbing their sleep. Discard damaged ones and make a list of necessary replacements. Make sure all tender plants are identified and marked.

Consider installing lights while it’s still warm, you don’t have to rush the season by turning them on until you’re ready. Check all wires and make sure all extensions are not overloaded and rated for outdoor use.

If you plan to buy a live tree and plant it, prepare your hole early. Store the soil, covered in a place that does not freeze. If you are using a cut tree, you can report your tree early to certain vendors, ensuring the perfect tree for your celebration.

As you prepare for the holidays, prepare for the colder weather as well. Check and repair caulking on doors and windows, clean gutters, check rakes and blowers for dealing with leaves, and decide on your method and materials for dealing with icy sidewalks and driveways.

While the weather has cooled, warmed and cooled lately, the ground is still warm. Now is the perfect time to plant your trees, shrubs and perennials. Fall planting gives your garden a head start because plants have weeks to establish roots before the ground cools and freezes. You can also plant bulbs. Although the later you plant, the less time they have to establish. It is possible, but not desirable, to plant bulbs until the ground freezes.

Mystery plant of column 10/15:

I believe the plant that a reader wanted to identify is Painter’s Palette or Tovara Virginia.

It is a perennial plant that spreads by rhizomes and self-seeds. Birds eat the seeds that cling to your clothes. It spreads aggressively.I have given away countless young plants.I took this photo today in my front yard.—Carol DeMets

Torva Virginiana is another name for the plant I identified. See also Virginia knotweed, jump seeds; Scientific name: Tovara virginiana (L.) Raf. synonymous. Polygonum virginianum, Persicaria virginica.

Mystery plant of column 10/8:

I respond to your column in the October 8 issue of The Morning Call. I believe the flower is “Profusion Zinnia”. It’s a fairly new cultivar and I discovered it a few years ago in the Jung seed catalog. It is a low mound, relatively maintenance free, requiring no skull and crossbones or staking and it is deer resistant in our area. Over the past couple of years, plant stores have started carrying them, but sometimes under a different name, sometimes under the same name. I have tried saving the seeds to plant the following year, but they revert to a taller, lankier plant. An additional note – New Jersey deer have eaten them in one instance that I know of. Also, deer in NJ ate peonies when they didn’t eat them here in Pennsylvania.—ET Sheather.

Profusion Zinnia is the trade name for a hybrid of Zinnia angustifolia (narrow-leaved zinnia) and Zinnia Elegans (youth and age, common zinnia or elegant zinnia). It combines the best of each to create an easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant, long-flowering zinnia. It is available in a multitude of colors.

The yard is a pleasant mix of fallen leaves, trees adorned in yellows and golds, and a fair mix of greens. We still have wood to stack and tools to clean and store, but I’m still not much help. My recovery is slow but steady and my spirits are lifted by the steady stream of good wishes and prayers that come each day. Thank you all.

Sue Kittek is a freelance gardening columnist, writer and speaker. Send your questions to Garden Keeper at or by mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, PO Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.


Planting: Use asters, kale, chrysanthemums, winter pansies and other fall garden favorites to brighten up the fall landscape. Finish planting spring flowering bulbs, garlic and shallot, asparagus and rhubarb, perennials, trees and shrubs. Sow seeds that require a cold period to germinate.

Seasonal: Remove pasty foliage after frosts. Remove spent annuals and vegetables from planters and flower beds. Keep walkways free of dead plants and leaves. Remove and store Halloween decorations after the holidays. Clean, check, repair and put away decorations, discarding anything damaged. Dig up and store other tender bulbs as the foliage is killed by cold or frost. Let the last wave of flowers go to seed. Many provide food for birds and small mammals during fall and winter. Plan ahead, if you’re buying a potted or burlap live Christmas tree, find a suitable planting spot, dig it up, and store it in the ground, covered or in a container in the garage.

Lawns: Rake, blow or mulch dead leaves on the lawn. Matted leaves promote mold problems and can prevent water from reaching the ground. Install the lawn until October. Treat against larvae, chinch bugs and meadow borers. Trim as needed to a height of about 2½ to 3 inches tall. Use a sharp blade. Keep newly seeded or turfed lawns watered; rain supplement in weeks when less than an inch. Fill in holes and low spots in the lawn.

Chores: Watch out for frosts. Protect tender plants and get a few more weeks of color. Stop pruning. Mark out flowerbeds, new plantings, plants emerging from late spring dormancy, and delicate plants. Avoid them when decorating or clearing snow. Ground cut: Allium moly, wilted hollyhocks. Cut bleeding hearts, blanket flowers, hardy cranesbills and Shasta daisies, leaving the basal foliage (the lower leaf tuft) to remain. Remove stems or flower stalks from daylilies, gay feathers (liatris), and yuccas. Order or buy mulch for the winter, but don’t apply it until the ground freezes. Stop watering the amaryllis bulbs. Allow the bulbs to dry out and go dormant. Store in a cool, dry place until they regrow in about 8-10 weeks. Check seed inventory for late crops and fall sowing. Harvest crops regularly, at least every other day. Remove and compost wilted plants. Drain standing water and remove anything that might collect rainwater to help control mosquito populations. Water all recent plantings and containers whenever we live a week with less than an inch of rain. Repair damaged screens and caulking around windows and doors in anticipation of the indoor invasion of overwintering insects and rodents.

Maintain protection from deer, rabbits and groundhogs for vulnerable plants. Reapply any taste or odor repellents. Clean and refill bird feeders regularly. Clean up spilled seeds and empty shells. Empty, scrub and refill birdbaths at least once a week. Use a small water heater to keep the water liquid in cold weather.

Clean out gutters and direct runoff water away from the foundation of the house.

Tools, equipment and supplies: Clean and maintain summer gear, then put it away or send it in for repair.

Check winter/fall equipment, repair or replace as needed. Security:

Check wiring before installing seasonal light displays. Clear lawns of debris before mowing or mulching leaves.

Make sure pets, children and other people are kept away from the area to be mowed or blown.

Store garden chemicals indoors, away from pets and children. Throw out expired ones at local chemical collection events. Photograph storm damage before cleaning or repairing for insurance claims and file promptly. Anytime you are outdoors and temperatures are around 50°F or warmer, watch for tick bites. Use insect repellent containing Deet on the skin. Apply a permethrin product to clothing. Wear light colored clothes, long sleeves, hats and long pants when working in the garden. Stay hydrated. Drink water or other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages. Even in cold weather, apply sunscreen, wear hats and limit sun exposure. Wear closed shoes and gloves; use eye protection; and use hearing protection when using noisy power tools.

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