November Garden Ideas – guest blogger Annette Presseau (Billerica Garden Club)

As they say in that old familiar song – “It’s the most wonderful time of the year………………!”

 

Your flower garden is probably just about finished growing in November but the beauty of the garden doesn’t have to end there now you can cut the flowers and make dried flowers with them and display them further.  The next time you go for a walk, be on the lookout for fallen pine cones, chestnuts, dry milkweed pods, rosehips and wayward acorns. Fill a basket with a collection of these plant gifts from nature and display on a coffee table. For added scent appeal, toss a few cinnamon sticks and cloves into the mix.

Dried Hydrangeas: Hydrangeas dry quickly and retain their structure.  When dry, they take on a brownish hue perfect for fall décor. They look lovely in a rustic pitcher or large pottery vase, and once thoroughly dry can be used year after year.

Gourds.  Displaying colorful gourds that mimic the hues of New England’s fall foliage is a festive way to celebrate the season. Miniature gourds look great displayed clustered in a basket or lined up on a coffee table or mantel. You can even group a variety of gourds on the dining room table as a centerpiece arrangement.  You can even preserve miniature gourds indefinitely for future seasonal display purposes by drying them out and then applying a paste wax or clear shellac to seal and protect.

  1. Start by labeling small paper bags or manila envelopes with the name of the plant seeds you are harvesting and the date and color of the flower if applicable.
  2. Look for seeds with dry and brown pods.
  3. Snip the entire pod into the paper bag or envelope and shake to loosen the seeds.
  4. Leave the bags/envelopes open and hang from a rafter in a dry area with good air circulation.
  5. Let the pods and seeds dry for a few weeks, occasionally checking the bags for mold and shaking the contents to aid in the drying process.
  6. If the seeds have not dried completely after a few weeks, spread them out on newspaper for another week before re-checking them.
  7. After the seeds have dried completely, remove all pods and debris and loosely re-package the seeds in a clean, labeled paper envelope and store in a dry place until planting time.

Tip: If you have an abundance of dried seeds, you may want to create your own seed packets by decorating envelopes with scrapbooking supplies and printing directions for planting the seeds. These packets make great gifts.

Pressed Flowers.  With the end of the growing season fast approaching, pressing and preserving flowers is an inexpensive and fun way to keep your garden memories alive permanently. Here are simple directions on how to press flowers along with five ideas to get creative with your pressed petals and blooms. Pressed flowers are also perfect for documentation purposes in garden journals.

  1. Pick flowers when they are at the peak of health if possible. If the flowers are wet, allow them to air dry before pressing.
  2. Place each flower separately between two pieces of square cut plain white paper. Allow for at least a one inch border of white paper on all four sides of the flower.
  3. Place the enveloped flower in the middle of a hardcover heavy book such as an old encyclopedia. Many flowers may be pressed at the same time in one book as long as each flower is enclosed in separate pieces of paper and spaced between several pages each.
  4. Place other heavy hardcover books on top of the pressing book and leave the books sitting for at least two weeks.
  5. At the end of the two weeks, check to see if the flowers are flat and dry to the touch. If they are, they’re ready. If flowers show any sign of moisture, place them back in the book between fresh pieces of paper and check them again in a few days. Remove when completely dry.

5 Simple Craft Ideas for Pressed Flowers

  1. Flower Documentation: Arrange the flowers between two pieces of waxed paper and cover the top of the waxed paper with a thin dish towel and iron. The wax will seal the flowers. When the waxed paper cools, use a permanent marker to write the plant name, the year it was grown and notes about it to add to your garden journal/record keeping.
  2. Bookmarks: Arrange pressed flowers on cardstock paper or recycled greeting cards cut into bookmark sized strips and laminate.
  3. Framed with a Poem: Copy a favorite poem onto handmade or textured paper. Place flowers around the poem to accent it. When you are happy with the arrangement use a tiny dot of tacky glue to secure each dried plant. Let dry and frame as usual.
  4. Handmade Cards/Stationery: Purchase plain card stock paper or handmade paper and fold in half into a card shape. Use tacky glue to secure flowers and spray with a clear sealant if desired.
  5. Place Settings/Mats: Use 11 X 14 inch heavy cardstock paper as a background for place mats and smaller cuts of heavy cardstock paper for place settings. Arrange flowers around names in calligraphy and laminate.

Fall cleanup.   Invest time in tidying the garden before the snow flies. Time spent outdoors now pays big dividends in spring. You’ll not only shorten your to-do list, you’ll also ward off some pest and disease problems.

  • Pull annuals and add them to the compost pile. For annuals that self-seed, allow seed-laden stems to remain in place through winter unless you plan to sprinkle them elsewhere in the garden.
  • Store breakable items, like terra-cotta pots, rain gauges, and other garden art before hard freezes settle in. Terra-cotta overwinters fine in an unheated shed or garage. Make sure pots and saucers are dry before storage.
  • Fall can be a great time to cut back your perennials if you’ve got the time and energy to get it done. Make sure to leave 2-3 inches of the plant’s stem to help protect fresh shoots from animal damage as they first emerge in the spring. It’s also a helpful reminder of where plants are in the yard before they start to sprout.
  • Consider leaving some perennials like coneflower, black-eyed Susan and tall sedums standing. They add interest to the winter garden both by their structure and by attracting birds to their seed heads.
  • Ornamental grasses should be left standing to protect their crown from a harsh winter.
  • Keep water gardens covered with a net until gusty fall winds have settled down and leaves aren’t blowing around.
  • Pull stakes and plant supports. Store where they’ll freeze to help destroy overwintering pests and diseases.

Test Garden Tip: Use a leaf vacuum or blower to remove leaves along foundations. Removing leaves helps eliminate hiding places for pests and rodents that can gain entry to your home. Allow some leaves to remain beneath shrubs to provide vital winter cover for beneficial insects.

Cleaning Garden Tools.  At the end of the gardening season, most of us toss our tools wearily in the shed or basement and forget about them. But smart gardeners clean, oil and sharpen tools now before putting them away. Then they’ll be ready to go for winter pruning or spring planting. Of course, many gardeners have never sharpened their pruners, much less their shovels. Why is it important?

Sharp tools are easier to use and don’t put as much strain on your hands and body and it’s better for your plants too because a dull cutting tool rips and shreds plant tissue. A sharp tool cuts clean, and the plant will recover better.  Many hardware stores will sharpen tools for a price but it’s worth learning the best way to sharpen a tool and also keeping your tools in good condition so that they last for many years.  Start with a clean, dry tool. Brush off dirt with rags or old paintbrushes or toothbrushes; for shovels you can use a wire grill brush. Remove any rust from metal with a wire brush, steel wool or sandpaper. A rag and mineral oil or WD-40 will take off sticky plant sap.

Here are specifics for sharpening pruners and shovels. The principles can be applied to many other tools.

Pruners

First, know what kind of pruner you have. Anvil pruners have one straight, sharp blade that strikes a flat plate. They are good for clearing hard, dead wood, but they damage living plants by crushing stems. Bypass pruners, with curved blades, are best for most garden work because they have a scissor like action that makes clean cuts — if they’re sharp.  Some expensive pruners, such as the Felco brand, can be taken apart for sharpening. But just because you have less expensive pruners that can’t be disassembled doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be sharp.

To hone pruners, use a small, fine whetstone about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide, sold at hardware stores. Although many people lubricate whetstones with water or fine oil, it isn’t essential, and you can use the stone dry.  On bypass pruners, you sharpen the top blade, which is usually thinner. One surface of that blade is flat. On the other, you will find a bevel, a narrow band that meets the cutting edge at an angle of about 23 degrees. Your goal is to preserve that same bevel angle while you get the edge sharp.  Wearing gloves, clamp the pruners in a bench vise if you have one, or hold them down on a table, pointed away from you, with the bevel up. Starting at the base of the blade, near the hinge, lay the stone or diamond file against bevel, following its angle. Using moderate pressure, stroke the stone toward the edge while also moving it along the edge toward the tip. It should take 10 to 20 strokes, always in the same direction, before the whole edge is sharp.

Christmas Greens.  Nothing smells as nice for the Christmas season as fresh greens inside our homes but fresh greens can dry out if they are not cared for properly.  Minimizing this problem is easy if you select the longest lasting greens and know how to treat them once they are brought inside.

There are all kinds of fresh greens you can enjoy indoors, but I always look for two qualities: one is how long they will stand up under dry conditions and the other is how fragrant they are.  For both longevity and fragrance, it is hard to beat pine. All pine varieties have a wonderful scent, but one of the most attractive in my opinion is White Pine. Its soft blue needles look so graceful, and they can be used in a variety of situations, particularly to accent fresh flowers and centerpieces.

The long-needled Pinus ponderosa is also attractive, especially when branch tips are cut and placed in a large vase. The best use of these branches, however, is for door swags. With their natural curved tips and large cones, they look perfect when combined with a big red velvet bow and a few shiny baubles and Christmas novelties. These are the best pine varieties to bring indoors.

Balsam and Grand Fir are my second choice for indoor greens and they are hard to beat when it comes to retaining needles and when you brush your hand against their boughs, the fragrance puts you back in the woods.  I particularly like the bluish underside of their needles. The flat nature of their branches makes these greens ideal for swags or for advent and traditional wreaths.

Spruce would be next on my list, especially the blue species. A Blue Spruce is the ultimate Christmas tree, and its branches make fine door swags as well. The needles on spruce, however, do not last as long as Balsam or pine, and they are sharp, making them somewhat more difficult to work with. Douglas Fir, named after Alexander Douglas, a British botanist who collected specimens of West Coast trees and took them back to Britain, is neither a spruce nor a fir. They have a delightful fragrance and make beautiful looking Christmas trees, but unfortunately, their branches dry out far too quickly to make them an ideal green for indoor use. Hemlocks are much the same: lovely, but terrible for drying out and for needle drop.

Cedar is an old time favorite for many reasons, but I’m afraid it also has a short lifespan indoors. If you can keep it in a cool room or use it outside the home, its branches are useful in swags, wreaths and most importantly, in cedar ropes. Another super idea is to pull all the old dead flowers from your moss hanging basket and replace them with all kinds of cedar tips to create a wonderful Christmas basket. Add a few frosted cones, some holly and a big red bow with long tails and you’ve got a very attractive addition to your outside décor.

Now what is the best way to make them last?  Cut branches are no different than cut flowers. Seven to ten days is the maximum time for any greens to be indoors without being in water. Try to have an extra supply on hand so you can replenish your creations and keep them fresh looking. By cutting about one inch off the bottom of each stem and by keeping them in room temperature water, the life span of most greens can be doubled. A little bleach in the water will kill any bacteria that might block the flow of water up the stem.

Christmas greens are so nice inside our homes at this time of year. They’re inexpensive, natural and fragrant. To enjoy them longer, select the varieties that I’ve mentioned. Be sure to mist them often and to keep them in water if at all possible.

 

 

 

 

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