Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: With a little care, life of Easter plants can be extended

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There always seems to be a moment during holidays, such as Easter, when many of us find our minds adrift in reflections of past celebrations. For someone as well ripened as me, that can go back a long way.

Nevertheless, I still retain vivid memories of the family gathered around the dinner table, the center piece of which was a baked ham surrounded by a ring of kielbasa and colored eggs, a lamb sculpted from butter, a loaf of babka and a small bowl of horseradish sauce.

Once my mind digests those thoughts, it wanders to pleasant images of the myriad of flowering plants that were displayed in our home, in the homes of our friends and relatives and in the church.

I never paid much attention to the ultimate fate of those plants. Perhaps no one gave them much attention after the holiday and simply discarded them.

To counter anyone of similar disposition, here are some suggestions for extending the life of some common Easter plants beyond one season.

First, keep the plants growing indoors by providing bright light, i.e. sunlight preferably, cool temperatures and keep them away from drafts, and maintain a moist, but not soggy soil. Then follow these instructions for specific plants:

Easter lily — Cut the stem back to soil level when the leaves yellow and store the plant in a cool corner of the basement.

In late May or early June, plant the bulb in a sunny garden. It may bloom again in fall, but should survive the winter, especially if mulched, and appear again next year.

Hydrangea — Also known as florist's hydrangea, these are not hardy in the colder areas of the realm, and are best grown as houseplants. In mid-June, cut the shoots back to about 5 inches, and move the potted plant outdoors to a partially shaded area.

In September, bring the plant indoors and store in a cool, dark place, and continue to keep the soil in the pot moist. In mid-winter, initiate new growth by moving the plant to a sunny window.

Azalea — In early June, lightly prune to shape the plant, move it outdoors to partial shade and grow on until early September. Bring the plant indoors to a cool, brightly lighted location. In January, move it to a warm and sunny window for forcing into bloom.

Tulips, hyacinth and daffodils — After leaves dry, cut them back, and store the pots in the basement. In fall, remove the bulbs from pots and plant them outdoors in the garden.

Chrysanthemums — If of the hardy type, transplant to the garden in late May or early June.

Cut back the shoots to 4 to 6 inches and watch them grow. Non-hardy types can be discarded.

UPCOMING CHORES

Don't discard this list of tasks for the coming week:

- Work compost or other organic matter, ground limestone (if needed), and fertilizer into annual flower beds and vegetable gardens. Avoid applying manure and limestone to the area of the vegetable garden where potatoes are to be planted. The manure and limestone may promote scab, a common disease of potatoes.

- Cut seed potatoes into pieces about 1 inches square, making sure that each piece has at least one eye (bud). Small potatoes — those smaller than a golf ball — do not have to be cut.

I always dust my potato pieces with powdered or horticultural sulfur.

This helps prevent scab and other diseases of potatoes.

The simplest way to dust potato pieces is to place them in a paper bag, add a couple of tablespoons of the sulfur, and shake the bag to coat the pieces.

Plant potatoes, cut side down, in a 6- to 8-inch-deep trench and cover with about 4 inches of soil.

- Sow seeds of peas, root crops, including carrots, radishes and turnips; leafy greens, including lettuce, spinach, kale, bok choi, radicchio, and spinach; and broccoli, fava beans, and onions.

- Survey your home landscape for sites where additional trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials may be planted.

When deciding what to plant, think diversification, that is, plant a variety of species.

Most plant diseases and insect pests are host specific. That means they infect or infest a narrow range of closely related plants.

Creating a diverse landscape of unrelated plant species will reduce the chances of disease infections and pest infestations.

- Rake up and bury or burn old iris foliage and other debris at the base of the plants to control iris borer.

Eggs of the borer spend the winter attached to old iris foliage. These eggs hatch in early spring and the resulting caterpillars move onto the newly emerging iris shoots.

Eventually they tunnel into the leaves and then chew their way downward to the rhizome (underground stem).

The wounds inflicted on iris rhizomes subsequently provide an entryway for bacteria which cause the rhizomes to rot.

- Prune boxwood, both solitary specimens and those in hedges. This is not only to shape the plants but also to remove foliage which might be infested with boxwood leaf miner.

Rake up the prunings and burn or bury them. When pruning boxwood, yew, or other hedges, always prune the base of the hedge to be wider than the top to prevent shading and thinning of the lower branches.

- Rake sticks, stones, and bones from lawns but be gentle. Vigorous raking, combined with moist soil and shallow rooting, may pull up grass plants which have just started their annual spring renewal.

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