Jan. 2013 Gardening To-Do List: Zone 4

Susan Wells
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November 2012 To Do Lists: Zone 8

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Now is the time of year to relax indoors and plan for warmer weather! As you are laying out plans for new beds and thinking about renovating old ones, think about trying some new things, maybe some native plants. Consider hardscape, as well. Draw a map of what is already in your garden and overlay what you’d like to change. Think about edging, raised beds, walkways and decks you’d like to add or change. Now might be a good time to draw plans and assemble materials so you will be ready to start building as soon as the weather warms up.

Annuals/Perennials/Houseplants

Winter is a resting time for most cacti, so be sure not to overwater. Give them just enough water to keep them from shriveling. Set them in a cool, bright spot, ideally where daytime temperatures are no higher than the mid-60s F.

African violets are among the most reliable of indoor winter bloomers, as long as they have sufficient light. Try moving plants to a south-facing window for the winter, or set them under fluorescent grow lights. 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.

Generally, most houseplants need a rest period, so withhold fertilizer during the winter.

Most houseplants require less water in the winter. Make sure you are not overwatering.

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.

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.

Know when to say goodbye to a plant. Plants have life spans, some longer than others. If a plant looks scraggly, it may be time to replace it or take cuttings to start a new plant.

Sort through stored tubers, roots and bulbs of dahlias, cannas, gladiolas and begonias. Dispose of anything that has shriveled or decayed. If dahlia tubers are beginning to shrivel, add just a little bit of water to the material they are packed in.

If there is not a lot of snow, check plants in case anything has heaved up from freeze/ thaw cycles. Heavy snow cover is a perfect “mulch,” so if the snow is deep, don’t worry about them. Gently step down any plants that have heaved and replace the mulch.

Vegetables

Spread the wood ashes from your wood burning stove or fireplace in garden beds. Remove chunks, then spread at the rate of 15-20 pounds (about a 5 gallon pail) per 1000 square feet. Ashes will raise the pH of your soil, so test often with a soil test kit so that the pH does not exceed 7.0.

Plot your garden or property on graph paper. Check your leftover seeds and make a list of what you need before ordering. It is best to order seeds, seed starting materials and plants early to get what you want and to avoid substitution.

 Trees/Shrubs

Evergreens, persistent fruits and decorative bark are three ways to make the winter landscape more interesting. Variations in plant shape, branching structure, and seed heads add interest to monotone gardens.

 

Emerald Green Arborvitae

Emerald Green Arborvitae

 Evergreens come in all shapes, sizes and textures, and range in color from shades of green to blues and even gold. They provide great contrast to our stark, leafless deciduous plants and provide shelter for birds.

There are also many native shrubs such as red and yellow twig dogwoods, nannyberry, highbush cranberry, and holly that add color to the winter white with their interesting bark and berries.

Crabapple trees have a beautiful spring show of blossoms, but they also produce red, yellow and orange fruits that hold on into the winter and provide food for birds and wildlife.

In our zone, when we think of attractive bark, we usually go to the European white birch, but this tree is short-lived due to its susceptibility to damage by the bronze birch borer and leafminers. Some better choices might be the paperbark maple, river birch, service berry, or cherry.

A tree that grows fast and has interesting branch structure is the curly twig willow. Just remember not to plant them around your septic system due to their aggressive root systems.

A shrub with interesting branching structure is Harry Lauder’s walking stick. The twisted corkscrew like branches make a great focal point in all four seasons.

When selecting any landscape plants, be sure to check for hardiness. In our area you want to select plants for Zone 4 or lower. Sometimes you can get away with a Zone 5 for those of us with lake effect weather or if you place your plant in a protected area. Be sure to consider the plant’s mature size. For example, you would not want to plant a Colorado spruce, which will become very large, close to a house or where it will shade your vegetable garden.

 

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