, Salem, MA

October 26, 2012

Where do all the chipmunks go?

North Shore Gardener Barbara Barger
The Salem News

---- — Q: Where do chipmunks go in the winter? There are so many around the rest of the year, but not in winter. The squirrels are year-round residents and eat at the bird feeder, but where are the chipmunks?

A: Chipmunks, unlike the squirrels, hibernate in winter. These tiny creatures live in dens in stone walls, your house foundations and even in an old tree trunk, but always in a tiny cave down low to the ground where they store as much as 8 pounds of food for the winter. All summer, they spend their days eating and storing food in their den for the winter, which they carry in their deep cheek pouches while gathering.

Unlike other animals that hibernate with the addition of a layer of winter fat, chipmunks remain active, so they require less fatty foods for storage. They are omnivores and eat worms and insects and grubs, as well as seeds and roots. They give birth to their young once or twice a year, giving birth to a litter of two to 10 who are out and about gathering food at about 2 months old. They live about two to three years in the wild.

Rest assured — if the food supply is there, chipmunks will be back. Watch for them at your feeder.

Q: We have a wisteria over part of our patio that provides some shade and privacy but is in the process of overtaking everything. What is the best way to keep this plant in check? It sends its tentacles up into an overhanging tree and out toward our house. We are constantly trimming them back but are afraid we may be cutting off the sources of new spring flowers. How far back should we cut them, and is there anything else we need to do to this plant?

A: Sounds like you have a wisteria that’s about to eat your house — and garden, too! Most gardeners would envy you! Be sure you give the tree a good support, one that needs minimum maintenance like painting — that’s difficult when the tree is as large as yours is. A metal pipe may be the answer, as it would blend in with the growth and save your house. (The tree obviously likes what you’ve been doing for it!)

Do not treat the tree with any degree of reverence or respect for the next few seasons — a little fertilizing, half-strength if you must, but keep it minimal or you’ll produce lots of leaves. Prune with great abandon. Prune every year, or the wisteria will take the opportunity to fight back and you may be back right where you began. The best time to prune is in late July when as much as one-third of the tree can be cut back. If you don’t mind missing a few flowers this first year, you can prune through after a frost into the early winter, although winter pruning seems to produce more leaves than flowers — wisteria trees flower on 1-year-old wood. If you allow the vine to droop too low near pathways and doors, it will attract a large number of bees. Warn your visitors accordingly.

Q: I received an amaryllis for Christmas. It had bloomed for the holidays, and after it bloomed, I kept it in a cool place until spring, when I planted it in the garden. Well, lo and behold, it bloomed in July with three beautiful flowers. That was such a pleasure to see. I would like to try to get it to bloom again during the holidays but am not sure when to dig it up. The leaves are still green. Shall I wait until they yellow and wilt before digging up the bulb?

A: Your amaryllis may not bloom until after the holidays this year, but you can give it a try.

You are doing the right thing by letting the leaves grow and mature and provide strength for next season, but most gardeners just put the whole pot out for the summer and do the same thing without transplanting to the garden. It is important to fertilize your amaryllis during the summer growth time. Let the plant stay right where it is in the garden until a light frost begins to turn the leaves yellow, then carefully dig up the bulb and put it in a pot with good soil — and begin a rest period: Put it in a cool, dimly lit place, give it no more water and let the leaves die back completely, at which time you can finally remove them. They’re certainly not pretty at this stage.

When growth resumes, return it to a sunny window and water thoroughly, soaking the whole pot. Add a fertilizer at half-strength, and you could have flowers in eight weeks or so. Add up the time — eight weeks’ rest, eight weeks’ growth, and that puts you well into January. I love to see my amaryllis blooming after the holidays, after all the red and green of Christmas has passed.

If you are intent on holiday blooms, next year, you can start the whole dying back/rest period earlier by withholding water earlier, like a week or two before Labor Day. As you did this past year, next year, keep the later developing foliage green and healthy after the flowers die — I think you will find leaving the bulb right in the same pot so easy that you won’t want to plant it in the garden!

This week’s dirt

Yesterday was the annual day of sorrow for gardeners in our part of the world — it marks the date of the average end of the growing season for the year.

In Zone 6, Nature give us 189 days of growing. This has nothing to do with the first and last average frost, but the end of the growing season. It means the sun, air and soil aren’t warm enough to plant and grow new plants. Keep this date, Oct. 25, in mind as you plan to plant the more tender ornamentals and veggies next year. But in the meantime, there is still much to be done: Get busy! Order the last bulbs for fall planting — it’s not too late for that. Rake leaves, and plan to compost them this year.


North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday’s Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by email at or write to her c/o The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at