If you've been looking for an excuse to celebrate, don't wait! Thanksgiving arrives next week and, for those who plan ahead, Thursday can be a great deal more than turkey, dressing and mince pie. It's a time to pause and give thanks for the blessings of the past year, but it can also serve to usher in the holiday season. After all, what better way of observing the holidays than by launching the festivities at Thanksgiving and carrying them through to Christmas!
Fortunately, a momentary lull in the outdoor garden schedule comes at an opportune moment. Aside from cutting the lawn (remember to lower the cut a half-inch) and raking the leaves, focus on decorating your home for Thanksgiving and the Advent season, which prefaces Christmas. Next weekend, you'll button down most of the landscape for the winter, except for those chores that can only be tackled in the first days of January when the garden is frozen solid.
The obvious Thanksgiving decoration reflects the harvest, so consider creating a table centerpiece that symbolizes the traditional harvest.
Let's hope you saved the pumpkin from Halloween. If not, shop for one pronto before your neighbors find the booty. For accents, bring home a few husks of Indian corn, a batch of dried wildflowers (cattail, teasel, yarrow), perhaps some fallen leaves (perfect, of course, with rich autumn colors) in your weekend stroll. Iron the leaves between two sheets of wax paper, then affix to your harvest display with pins. Work in a basket of fresh fruit (apples, pears, peaches, bananas, grapes), laced with an assortment of nuts and you have a Thanksgiving centerpiece you'll never forget. The fruits will be consumed, the nuts enjoyed, the wildflowers saved, and the leaves will find their way to the Christmas tree as folk art ornaments! Nothing will go to waste.
If you want the scent of Thanksgiving permeating the house, simmer a pint of water containing two large sticks of cinnamon, a heaping tablespoon of whole cloves, and a nutmeg for a few hours. The fragrance will say "holiday" long before the family sits down at the dinner table.
With the first holiday plants having arrived at nurseries and garden centers, you can also accent your home with Thanksgiving cactus. The buds are just opening to unfold delicate blossoms of white, red, pink and salmon. Plants will retain their flowers for two weeks if you keep them cool (below 50 degrees) except when they're on view for family and friends. Keep the soil barely moist while the flowers last.
Apart from your Thanksgiving activities, next week marks the start of the traditional winter crisis for your indoor plants. You know it as mealybugs and spider mites. In some homes and offices, the bugs are already in place.
The scenario goes like this:
By the last days of November, the once-high humidity level in your house or apartment will have been depleted to a point where it then stands just a tad above 20 percent. In the ensuing days, the relative humidity drops into the teens and the mealybugs and mites begin to happen.
At first, you would never know they were there, but in the days before Christmas the population increases dramatically, with the damage showing soon after. By the time you've stored your holiday decorations, house plant foliage shows the results of a month's destruction by the pests.
Incidentally, if you are picking up static electricity when walking over carpets and rugs, the humidity has already fallen below 20 percent.
If you get busy next week, you won't have to worry about mites and mealybugs over the winter. All it takes is humidity around your plants. Use one pan per plant, making sure the pan is as wide as the plant. Apply an inch-deep layer of pebbles or stones in the pan, a half-inch of water, then stand your potted plant atop the bed. The water vapors encircling the plant should raise the humidity high enough to thwart any attack by mites and mealybugs.
When watering your plants, move them to the kitchen sink or utility tub instead of watering them in place on the bed of pebbles. However, check the water level in the pan every few weeks and replenish as needed to maintain a 30 percent humidity level around plants.
If pans aren't possible, gather plants in one room, then place bowls of water around the plants. Pans of water atop heat registers and radiators will help elevate the humidity, but seldom will this deter the pests unless you reinforce the humidity another way.
Finally, if you have a humidifier built into your home heating system, activate it now.
Other priorities for the weekend: Store hand tools, shovels, spades and other implements that won't be needed until next spring. Thrust small tools thrust repeatedly into a large bucket of sharp sand (builder's sand, washed sand) to remove all rust. Once clean, dab them with a clean cloth in new engine oil to put a protective film over the metal surface and handle. Pack all small tools immediately in a trash can liner, close with twist-'em cords, then store in the garage attic for the winter. Treat large tools treated similarly, with plastic bags or liners housing metal parts after they have been oiled; leave handles out of the bags. Store summer patio equipment after checking for rust. If needed, sandpaper the rust away, then provide a protective coat of silicone or lacquer to metal parts. Pack chairs in individual trash can liners. Clean wood furniture with soap and water, leave it to dry, then protected for the winter according to instructions at the time of purchase. If you aren't certain what to do, ask the manager at the hardware store or building supply center, but first relay the information about the wood to be protected.
Summer barbecues can be a pain when it comes to removing charred food from grills, but not if you first soak the covers for an hour in plain water. Next, take a damp cloth, dip it into sharp sand, then use this as an abrasive to clean food from the grill. It works like a charm as long as you use lots of sand. When the grill is clean, wipe it down with another cloth dampened with clean engine oil, then pack in a trash can liner until spring.
For the few with underground sprinkler systems, remember to purge the system by the Thanksgiving weekend. If your system is automatic, shut down the main water valve first, then send your irrigation system through a complete cycle. Check automatic drains to make sure they operate; place a blotter near the drain to verify that the system has been purged.
With manual sprinkling systems, shut down the main valve feeding the irrigating system, then use your coupling device to open each valve. Check automatic drains to be sure they opened.
Next Week: Putting the renovated lawn to bed for the winter, also readying neglected lawns for de-thatching and dormant seeding.
Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).