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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


Feb. 2013 Gardening To-Do List Zones 1-2

Susan Wells
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USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

Find your zone using this map; click to enlarge.

When you order your seeds for spring planting, you may be confused by the information given in the description of the plant online or on the back of the seed package. That information is what you need to plan your planting schedule, as well as figure out if the plants will grow to maturity in our short growing season.

Here is a glossary of terms to help you make sense of the information provided so you can make informed choices:

Days to maturity: Lets us know how soon we can expect to start harvesting after transplanting seedlings into the garden.

Hybrid (F, F1, F2): Hybrids are seeds from a cross between two or more older varieties and are grown for specific traits like flavor or size. (F1 = first generation offspring). Saving seeds from hybrids and replanting them will not guarantee the same plants in future years.

Heirloom: Usually open-pollinated (OP) varieties (not hybrids) that have been grown for many years and may have distinctive coloring, flavoring and fascinating histories. These plants do not always have the benefit of the same resistance to disease or fungus as their hybrid counterparts. But their seeds will be true to type if saved and grown in future years.

Parthenocarpic: Plants that are able to set fruit without pollination.

Treated seeds: Seeds that have been coated with a fungicide or insecticide to increase the seed’s ability to sprout without rotting or being attacked by insects in the soil.

Organic: Seeds that have been harvested from plants grown organically, without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Determinate plants:  These will grow to a set size, then stop growing. These plants may be better selections when space is limited. However, they will usually set all their fruit at once, such as Rutgers tomatoes. This can be handy if you plan on canning and need lots of fruit at once.

Indeterminate: Plants that will continue to grow providing an extended harvest, such as Better Boy tomatoes.

Number of seeds: Seed size varies widely between varieties and some seed packets with tiny seeds may appear empty. The seed package will tell you both the number of seeds in the package and how many to sow per foot of row, so you will know how much space you need in the garden.

Tolerance: That plant’s ability to survive in cold weather, drought, salt and/or heat.


Seed starter

Image: Background Land/Shutterstock

Starting your seeds indoors before transplanting outdoors is easy if you have the right supplies.

Spread the wood ashes from your wood burning stove or fireplace in garden beds.  Spread at the rate of 15-20 pounds (about a 5 gallon pail) per 1,000 square feet.  Ashes will raise the pH of your soil, so test when soil has thawed and adjust the pH to not exceed 7.0.

If you have saved vegetable seeds from your past seasons’ bounties, be aware that different varieties of vegetables stay viable for different lengths of time.

While last year’s seeds should perform well for you, others may need to be tested for viability.

Onion, spinach, and parsnips are typically good for one to two years. Beans, broccoli, carrots, kohlrabi and pea seeds last three to five years.  Beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, and lettuce may last 4 to 6 years.

The success of your saved seeds depends on how you have stored them.  Drying them first, then keeping them in a cool, dark and dry place in airtight containers will keep them fresh.

 Flowers and Houseplants

Most houseplants need a rest period, so withhold fertilizer during the winter and don’t over-water. As light levels decrease, you may need to move houseplants for best light exposure. Clean windows to allow plants to get maximum light, or use grow lights.

African violets are among the most reliable of indoor winter bloomers, as long as they have sufficient light. They are also easy to propagate. To make new plants, take a leaf cutting, dip the cut end in a rooting hormone powder, such as Rootone, and stick the cutting in a pot filled with vermiculite or sand. Cover the pot with a perforated clear plastic bag and keep the rooting mix moist. In a few weeks, you’ll have new plants, which you can pot separately.

Set houseplants on trays filled with pebbles, and keep the trays filled with water to increase humidity.

Thoroughly water newly purchased plants to leach excess fertilizer and salt build-up from the soil mix.


Emerald Green Arborvitae

Emerald Green Arborvitae is a wonderful evergreen shrub or tree for your garden. Just make sure you don’t plant it on the south or southwest side of the house.

Browning or bleaching of evergreen foliage during winter occurs for a couple of reasons:

  • Winter sun and wind cause excessive water loss while the roots are in frozen soil and unable to replace lost water.
  • Bright sunny days cause the plant tissue to initiate cellular activity. Then, when the sun goes down, the plant’s temperature drops rapidly, and the foliage is injured or killed. New transplants or plants with succulent, late season growth are particularly sensitive.

There are several ways to minimize winter injury to evergreens. The first is proper placement of evergreens in the landscape. Yew, hemlock, and arborvitae should not be planted on south or southwest sides of buildings or in highly exposed (windy, sunny) places.

You can reduce damage by propping pine boughs or Christmas tree greens against or over evergreens to protect them from wind and sun and to catch more snow for natural protection. You can also construct a barrier of burlap or similar material on the south, southwest, and windward sides of evergreens. If a plant has exhibited injury on all sides, surround it with a barrier, but leave the top open to allow for some air and light penetration.

If an evergreen has suffered winter injury, wait until mid-spring before pruning. Brown foliage is most likely dead and will not green up, but the buds, which are more cold-hardy than foliage, will often grow and fill in areas where foliage was killed.

The benefit of winter mulch is that it will keep vulnerable trees and shrubs from heaving during thaws, plus allowing for roots to absorb some moisture.  This will keep them from dehydrating.  Spread mulch to the drip line.

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