Bagworms have already left their mark this year on evergreens such as junipers, arborvitae, and chamaecyparis. You can act now, though, to reduce their population for next year. Bagworms overwinter as eggs inside the leaf covered bags left hanging on the tree. Remove the bags before spring and destroy them by squashing them underfoot. Handpicking usually provides sufficient control. In June the tiny caterpillars will hatch, and if they appear in large numbers, you can spray them with a pesticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Give your houseplants an April shower in December. Dust that collects on the foliage blocks out needed sunlight and can clog the pours of the leaf surface, affecting the plant’s ability to breathe. Rinsing your plants gently with tepid water will also wash away mites and other pest insects that may be on the plant.
Deciduous shrubs may need protection from deer, rabbits, mice, and other animals that eat the buds, bark, and twigs of many plants. Your local nursery or home center may carry animal repellents or you can use tree wraps, hardware cloth, and shrub rings. Try using shrubs that these animals do not normally eat, including mountain laurel, Japanese plum yew, and holly.
Be resourceful and creative with your holiday decorations by using small branches you’ve pruned from your boxwoods. Boxwoods are susceptible to Volutella blight, a fungus that thrives in damp conditions. Thinning opens the branching structure of the plant, improves air circulation, and creates unfavorable conditions for the development of this fungus. The cut branches can be used in centerpieces, wreaths, and as accessories on wrapped packages.
If you are planning to purchase a live Christmas tree this season, give careful thought to the selection and care of your tree. In choosing a tree, it is important to know its growth habits. Most of the pines, firs, and spruce trees sold as Christmas trees will reach a height of forty to one hundred feet and a width of ten feet or more. Avoid placing your live tree inside too early. Most potted trees do best if kept inside no longer than one week. Place it near a window away from heating vents, keep the soil slightly moist, and mist the foliage often. It is a good idea to dig your hole before the ground freezes, making sure that it is large enough for the root ball. When planting the tree, place it at least twenty feet from the side of any building, structure or plantings, water it well. Keep the soil moist if rain is lacking throughout the winter and the soil isn’t frozen?
Try using calcium chloride or sand instead of rock salt for deicing your walkways and driveways this winter. Rock salt (sodium chloride) has several disadvantages when used as a de-icing agent. Most importantly, it changes the structure and chemical makeup of soils that it washes into, and is harmful to the plants around areas where it is used, causing injury or even death.
Inspect holiday plants like poinsettias, chrysanthemums, and ornamental peppers for whiteflies before purchasing them. Look for tiny, white, moth-like insects flying from the plant when you touch it. Heavy infestations produce a cloud-like swarm when the plant is shaken. Whiteflies suck sap from the plant causing leaves to yellow, shrivel, and drop prematurely. Whitefly larvae are small, white to yellow, and can be found on the undersides of the foliage. Nymphs secrete honeydew which attracts ants and can lead to sooty mold growth. If you suspect one of your plants has whiteflies, separate it from other houseplants. Insecticidal soaps can be used to control this pest, but you may have to apply it repeatedly for several weeks.