Winter is the most difficult time for gardeners in the northern zones. We can’t do much outside. But at least this month, we can begin starting seeds for our dream garden for the spring and summer. If you have the right seed starting supplies, getting started is easy. So, if you haven’t already, purchase your seeds and other supplies now and let the dream begin!
Meanwhile, if you are staring out your window at a monochromatic landscape of grays and whites, and wish you had some RED to look at, here are five easy ways to make it happen:
Red twig dogwoods bring warm red color to the winter garden. They can be pruned now or in March before new growth begins. Prune to the ground if you want to keep this shrub small. Otherwise, prune out older canes. Shutterstock: Christina Richards
Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus alba) – On a sunny day when snow is on the ground, this plant can supply wonderful warm red color. Even without snow cover, the twigs of this beautiful shrub just glow in the sun.
Winter Fire (Pieris japonica) – The new foliage of this evergreen shrub is a fiery red and covers the shrub at this time of the year. In the spring, clusters of drooping red flowers appear.
Perennials – although these perennials offer more of a burgundy color than warm red, the evergreen foliage of ‘Dark Towers’ Penstemon and the many varieties of Heuchera offer good foliage color throughout the winter months.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) – The brilliant red berries of winterberries stand out well and can be seen from quite a distance. This shrub is deciduous and the berries cling to the branches after the leaves fall off. Another bonus of this shrub is that it attracts birds to your yard. Hollies also have bright red berries while the dark leathery green leaves stay on the shrub year-round. Both male and female varieties are needed for winterberries and other hollies to produce berries.
Cardinals can bring color to even the bleakest winter landscape. Attract them to your yard with a feeder stocked with sunflower seeds. Steven Russell/Smith Photos
Cardinals –The bright red plumage of male cardinals is a delight at all times of year, but particularly seen against white snow. They are attracted to sunflower seed feeders and will stick around most of the winter.
Bring geraniums out of storage; cut them back by half, water well, and set them in a bright, cool window.
Over-watering is the biggest risk to houseplants in winter. Always check with a finger poked well into the pot before adding more water.
Watch for signs of houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. If tackled before they infest the plants, non-chemical methods are usually successful – a simple shower, insecticidal soap spray, or, with tenacious pests like mealybugs, an alcohol swab and Q-tip.
It is not unusual to see the foliage of early hardy bulbs peeking prematurely out of the soil if there is a period of unseasonably warm weather in late winter, especially if bulbs have a southern exposure or are planted near a warm house foundation. The exposed leaves may be nipped when cold weather returns, but the plants will still bloom later in the season.
A dozen long-stemmed roses is a traditional and lovely Valentine’s Day gift, but one that can be enjoyed only fleetingly. Why not give a gift certificate for an actual rose plant instead, so the sight and smell of rose blossoms can be enjoyed for years to come? Choose a hardy, disease-resistant shrub rose like one of the Knockout series for beauty and ease of care. To really woo your sweetheart, offer to plant the rose yourself come spring!
Cut back ornamental grasses and other perennials left standing over the winter before the new growth begins to emerge. Bring a board into the garden to stand on when you’re grooming plants. It will spread your weight and help reduce soil compaction, especially if the soil is still on the wet side.
If you start sowing seeds in flats indoors for spring planting, remember that small, compact seedlings are better transplants than older, leggy ones. Most seedlings take eight weeks or less to be garden-ready, so count back from final frost (mid to late April for Zone 5) about two months for the very first sowings. Some early starters are lettuce, celery, onions, leeks, and early tomatoes, which you can sow now indoors under lights.
Wash previously used flats, cell packs or pots with a 1:10 solution of bleach and water to prevent fungal disease that can kill seedlings. Instead of potting soil, use a finer textured seed-starting mix.
Lettuce is one of the earliest crops you can put in the ground. Start seeds indoors and transplant outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked. Shutterstock: Oleksil Khmyz
If the ground isn’t frozen, sow some spinach and radishes outdoors under cover.
If the soil in the garden is dry enough to work, you can begin tilling or spading the soil. Add compost, well-rotted manure or other organic matter and turn under your cover crops if you planted any. Perennial vegetables such as rhubarb, asparagus, horseradish and artichokes may be planted this month.
Now is the time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs while they are dormant. Prune dormant fruit trees before the buds swell. Don’t paint the wounds—let them heal naturally. Always use sharp tools to make clean cuts on any dead, damaged, or diseased wood, suckers and water sprouts. This is especially important in winter’s harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary damage.
Remove Viburnum twigs that bear egg cases of Viburnum leaf beetle (usually the newest growth, from the past year). Be sure to destroy the twigs or put in the trash. Don’t dispose of them in the compost or brush pile since the eggs may survive.
Dormant oil sprays on fruit trees and other plants help control overwintering scales, mites, and aphids. Pick a calm day when the temperatures are at least 40 degrees F and there is no chance of rain or freezing temperatures in the following 24 hours. Some plants can be injured by oil sprays, so be sure to read and follow all label instructions and precautions.