Jan. 2014 To Do List: Northern & Central Midwest

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seed sproutingOut with the old, in with the new. Take a little time this month to go through your seed stash and make a list of new varieties you’d like to try. Gather supplies for starting your seeds, too, such as seed starting mix, pre-made pellets, peat pots or other containers, and markers.

If you don’t have a warm spot in your home to start the seeds, consider a seed propagating/seedling heat mat. Used under a tray of seedlings, the warm mat can help seeds sprout faster and develop better roots.

If your seeds need more light than they’ll get through your windows, you may want to add grow lights until it’s safe to transplant them into the garden.

  • Test seeds saved from last year’s garden by putting 10 in a damp, rolled up paper towel. Keep the paper towel in a loosely closed plastic bag to retain moisture and put it in a warm place. Check it every day or so. If 8 of the 10 seeds germinate, you can expect that about 80% of the remaining seeds will germinate, too. If only 5 sprout, the estimated germination rate is 50 %. Testing will help you decide whether to sow more heavily than usual or buy new seeds.
  •  For welcome indoor color, try African violets. They bloom reliably as long as they have enough light. Give them a south-facing window this winter, or place them under fluorescent grow lights.  
  • Most houseplants need a period of rest. Stop feeding them now and cut back on watering. Start up again when you see signs of new growth.
  • As the natural light levels decrease, you may need to move plants that are actively growing for better light exposure. Clean your windows to get as much light as possible, or set up a grow light stand.
  • Sort through your stored tubers, roots and bulbs of dahlias, cannas, gladiolas, and begonias. Dispose of any that have shriveled or decayed. If dahlia tubers look shriveled, lightly spray the material packed around them in with some tepid water.
  • Rosemary can be tricky to grow in an indoor herb planter, but having this fragrant herb available for recipes is worth the effort. Give your plant the brightest, coolest spot in your home. Avoid overwatering, but don’t let the soil dry out. Wait until spring to begin fertilizing, and transplant it into the garden after the weather warms up.
  • Clean bird feeders regularly by dumping out old, uneaten seeds, scrubbing with soapy water, and rinsing well. Soak the feeders briefly (for 2-3 minutes) in a solution of one part household bleach to 9 parts water. Rinse and allow to air dry thoroughly before re-using.
  • If plants have heaved (that is, if alternating freezes and thaws have lifted plants partially out of the ground), gently step on the soil around them to press them back down. Add more mulch and soil, if needed.

Image: SS/amenic181

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