Main topics in this issue:
Newsletter resolutions stem from our wishes and yours
Feathered friends rely on us: Let them down slowly. Pp. 4-5
Toast the compost... quietly
Holiday branch is lifted in a how-to: Watch an oak recreate ancient Yule tradition, pp. 9-12 (Quick-look below)
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In this issue you will find answers to these Search terms:
Arthur Cleveland Case
birds in winter
Christmas branch replaces tree
Japanese maple winter protection
lost newsletter issues
Louis Beebe Wilder
oak branch ancient Yule tradition
Poor Richard's Almanack
root rot in potted plants
watering potted plants
Going away for a while?
Time to teach plant watering 101 to your stand-in.
Start by impressing its importance: Watering is the most important task in gardening. Often in commercial operations, it's trusted only to the most experienced staff.*
*This is news to most people. We've often hear people say, "She wants a job and might like plants so we told her to go apply at that greenhouse. They probably need entry level people to do things like water."
We're going away, and will teach a young friend 5 things:
1. When a potted plant needs water, aim to moisten its entire root zone and quickly remove any excess.
2. Test the pot for water need. Heft the pot regularly. Water when it becomes a lightweight. Or stick a finger an inch down into the potting soil. Soil feels cool if it's moist, warm if it's dry. Water only when the plant has used all the water it was last given.*
*There are exceptions. Some plants like to be constantly moist, others prefer to dry all the way down between waterings. However, for a few weeks or a month they can all get by with this average treatment.
3. Then, add water until it begins to run out the drain holes. Wait 15 to 20 minutes for that excess to be reabsorbed. Pour off any that remains or if it was all reabsorbed, add a bit more to see if it runs out. (Sometimes the first of the water slips through the gap between pot and soil in a very dry plant. Once the soil is a bit moist it usually will absorb more.) Keep track of how much water you used, and plan to add that much water whenever that plant runs dry
4. Get used to the idea that some plants may go weeks between watering in winter. Water use is directly related to how many leaves there are to draw it up and how much light reaches each of those leaves. More light means more photosynthesis, more water taken up, and the reserves in the soil running dry more quickly.
5. Every time a plant needs water, it should need the same amount. (Above, right: The jade's pot uses a half pitcher, the young rosemary, a pop bottle's worth.) So we'll measure out water for each pot "in case" but teach our young friend to feel the soil. We'll say, "Don't be afraid of letting the plant go without if the soil feels even a bit cool."
To be tentative and water a potted plant only a little causes problems. Almost all of the primary water-gathering root tips are at the bottom of a pot. Wetting only the top means the important roots get nothing while pests such as fungus gnats will thrive in moisture at the surface.
To overwater is very common and probably worse. Water sits in the catch pot making the lowest layer of root tips go without air. (Pot sans drain holes? Even worse because you can't see and pour off the excess.) Those root tips die and become susceptible to rot. That rot often becomes chronic throughout the root system.
...it may be better to let plants go without watering. Gather plants in one place, in bright light away from windows. A dry bathtub with shower curtain pulled across the opening is often a good spot. There, out of direct sun, the plants' water needs will be lower and they will benefit from community humidity.
Amaryllis: Perhaps better if it's dry in a room out of direct light for a couple of weeks rather than being overwatered by an inexperienced helper.
Flowers are words which even a babe may understand.
- Arthur Cleveland Case