The fourth week of November is when attention can shift from the garden to indoor plants and holiday decorating.
There is still time to pot up bulbs for forcing indoors such as Paper Whites and Amaryllis if you want home-grow blooms for Christmas. If you have uprooted summer annuals from porch and patio pots, you can use pruning crumbs from holly and cedar to fill in the empty space. Branches with berries and beautiful bark can add winter color without any winter care.
Q. I am going to give someone a houseplant as a gift. (It is my daughter, who is moving to her first apartment.) The problem is this place gets very little light. I remember once you recommended houseplants that can survive in dark homes. Please repeat that info. Thank you. — R.D., Bonney Lake
A. The triplets of delight when it comes to dark homes are the common philodendron, snake plant (sanseveria) and Grape ivy (Cissus). In addition to requiring less light, these plants also need very little water in the winter when they sit dormant. The snake plant needs the least amount of water and actually needs to dry out between watering. Philodendrons like moist soil most of the year, then just barely moist in winter, and grape ivy prefers enough winter watering to keep the roots moist at the bottom of the pot but the top half of the soil dry to the touch.
Houseplants also help clean the air and release oxygen. Houseplants as a housewarming gift will help you both breathe easier.
Q. What is “well aged” manure and how does one age manure? We have access to cow manure and want to use it on our garden but do not want weeds. — P.P. Orting
A. Lucky you with lots of cow doo! Fresh manure can indeed add weeds to a garden and so allowing a pile of manure to age or compost for at least six months can heat up the pile so that weed seeds can be eliminated. You can measure the temperature of the manure pile with a soil thermometer, and if it reads below 150 degrees, you can add water and a nitrogen source such as grass clippings to heat up the pile. Cover with a tarp to prevent the rain from washing away the nutrients.
Fresh manure from poultry can be so “hot” that plants can actually burn, so it is very important to age poultry manure. Never use manure from cats and dogs.
Q. What do you think about spreading bark in shrub beds in the fall versus in the spring? We have a new home and have weeded all the beds. Just want to do what is best for keeping weeds down. — T. Email
A. I vote for a spring mulch of bark chips or wood chips. There is nothing wrong with adding a mulch in the fall but in the spring you may have some small annual weeds such as shot weed sprouting in your beds and a covering of mulch can block the light and smother these weeds.
Still, if you need an excuse to get outdoors and work your winter weary muscles, order a load of mulch and start spreading.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.