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posted: 11/24/2012 5:00 AM

Time to prepare for the big chill

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  • Store all terra-cotta containers away from the elements over the winter.

    Store all terra-cotta containers away from the elements over the winter.

  • Daffodils work well if you want to force-bloom the bulbs indoors to have a pretty display before spring.

    Daffodils work well if you want to force-bloom the bulbs indoors to have a pretty display before spring.

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden

If you haven't already done so, remove dead plants and debris from the vegetable garden and annual flower beds. Always get rid of any stalks and foliage where you have had disease problems. Do not add affected materials to your compost pile, as most home compost piles do not get hot enough to kill disease organisms.

Remove frozen plants from containers and hanging baskets and replace them with evergreen boughs, branches with colorful berries and interesting seed heads from perennials and ornamental grasses.

If you do not have enough material in your yard, garden centers will have lots of options. Push the ends of the stems into the growing medium that is left in the container, which works well to anchor them.

Forcing bulbs

If you have hardy bulbs left over from planting this month, you can pot them up now to force them into bloom indoors in spring. Daffodils, hyacinths, tulips and crocuses work well for forcing.

The bulbs will need a period of chilling during the winter in order to trigger them to bloom. Major bulbs such as tulips and daffodils require 12 to 14 weeks of cold storage; little bulbs such as crocuses need a bit less.

Plant the bulbs in wide, shallow pots in a soilless potting mix. Plant large bulbs side by side with just their tips showing above the level of the potting mix. Plant little bulbs with a half-inch of mix covering them.

Water the containers well and place them in a cold frame, garage or shed where the temperature will remain between 35 and 40 degrees. You also can store the pots in a refrigerator, if you have room, but not if you are storing fruit there. Some fruit releases ethylene gas, which inhibits flower formation. Cover the container with plastic wrap before placing it in the refrigerator.

When pale yellow sprouts begin to show after the chilling period, pots can be brought out of the cold into a bright but cool room (55 to 65 degrees) for about two weeks. As flower buds begin to develop, bring pots into a warmer room with bright sunlight. Water as needed.

Prepare for cold

All terra-cotta containers should be stored out of the elements over the winter. They will absorb water from rain and snow and then can crack when freezing temperatures cause the water to expand.

Turn off water to any faucets that are not made to withstand freezing and disconnect garden hoses from the house. Frost-free faucets have a valve inside the house that shuts off the water and prevents the line from freezing, so they can be used during cold weather.

Clean out your gutters once all leaves have fallen. Store liquid pesticides and grass seed for the winter in an area that does not freeze.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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