Now is the time of year to relax with a stack of garden books and other references and plan for next season. Before you start ordering seeds, however, you may want to consider some basic questions: How many of A, B and C plants can fit into your Y square feet, and for what cost in seeds, supplies and labor? Also, how much room in a sunny spot where the soil drains well do you really have? Grow what is precious and unavailable elsewhere: things such as organic baby greens or juicy colorful heirloom tomatoes.
When you have a good list of things you want to grow, ask yourself which ones work best grown directly from seed? Anything that grows better direct-seeded than started in cells and transplanted, and things you want to make repeat sowings of, including, beans, peas, squash and pumpkins, spinach and salad greens, cucumbers, root crops like carrots and beets, braising greens, dill, basil, melons, and corn.
With transplants like tomatoes or peppers, ask yourself, “How many plants of each will I need?” Who needs more than a cherry tomato plant or two?
Don’t grow something in bulk that you can’t cure and store properly, even if it’s a staple of your diet. Do the research in advance.
Collaborate with friends – compare orders and swap partial packets or plants.
Don’t overlook an investment in pest-prevention, such as floating row covers and hoops to support them. If handled carefully, these are reusable for many years, and save time, effort and money.
Hardy onion seedlings are one of the earliest crops that can be set out as transplants in the outdoor garden, four weeks before the last spring frost date. Since they need 8-10 weeks of indoor growth to get to transplant size, it may be onion-seeding time soon. Onion seeds don’t retain their viability well in home storage, so it’s best to start with fresh seed each year.
Potatoes are another crop that goes in the ground early – two weeks before last frost, which in Zone 5 is around April 30.
By the middle of January, you can start the slow-to-germinate plants such as parsley, thyme, tarragon, geraniums and sage. Light from your windowsill may not be enough in January so you may need to supplement with a grow light.
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.
Keep an eye out for signs of houseplant pests like spider mites, mealy bugs and scale insects. If you catch them before they get out of hand, non-chemical methods such as a simple shower, insecticidal soap spray or an alcohol swab with a Q-tip are usually successful.
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.
If you’re growing geraniums indoors in pots, cut back leggy stems by about half, repot the plants in fresh soil, and then set them in a cool, bright window.
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.
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.
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.
When selecting any landscape plants, be sure to check for hardiness. In our area you want to select plants for Zone 5 or lower. Sometimes you can get away with a Zone 6 for those of us with lake effect weather or if you place your plant in a protected area. Be sure to consider the plants mature size. For example, you would not want to plant a Colorado spruce, which will become very large, close to a house.
Often January means knee-high snowdrifts, but when the snow is scarce, avoid crunching across snow-free, icy grass since treading on frozen turf can damage it.