In the Edible Garden
- Plan your vegetable garden for next year. If garden is large enough, allow for crop rotation.
- Make a list of tools that need to be purchased for the coming year. Can you move to a drip watering system and alleviate the need for broadcast sprinkling? Is this the year you will invest in a compost tea system to help your soil?
- Compare seed catalogue prices to check value for what is being offered. How do the mail-order prices compare to the local garden center?
- Do a germination test on leftover seeds to see which can be used this spring and which need to be discarded.
- Learn more about the soil in your garden. Read up with these two books: "Life in the Soil," by the University of Illinois' James B. Nardi and Jeff Lowenfels' "Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web".
In the Ornamental Garden
- Water evergreens if soil is not frozen. This will help to avoid winter dehydration.
- Extend the life of Christmas poinsettias by placing them in a cool area with bright light.
- Remove rose cones during warm spells during the winter. This prevents heat from building up inside. Re-cover when temperatures drop.
- Check for frost heaving of perennials. Push back into ground and cover with extra mulch.
- Use sawdust, sand or kitty litter instead of salt to melt snow. Salt will kill nearby plants.
- Do you know that snow is an excellent insulation for plants. The temperature below snow increases by about 2 degrees F. for every inch of accumulation. Soil also gives off heat. A study showed that the soil surface temperature was 28? F under 9 inches of snow while the air temperature was minus 14 degrees F.
- Monitor snowfall on evergreen shrubs and other landscape plants. While most branches weighed down by heavy snow and ice will spring back once a melt arrives, an extremely heavy layer will break branches and may kill the entire plant. A broom usually provides enough leverage to unburden medium-sized evergreens.
- If you didn't get it done in December, place mulch over perennial beds and around roses to keep the plants dormant even during warm-ups that occur in late winter.
- Avoid walking on turf areas. The dormant grass plants can be easily broken and possibly killed.
- Examine woody plants to make sure animals are not chewing at the bark. If the trunk is girdled, the plant will not have the ability to transport nutrients and water from the roots to the branches and will die. Place wire fencing around the plant at a distance that the animals cannot reach through to feed.
- Consider recycling holiday greens and trees. Some communities haul away trees, some allow them to be brought to a chipping site. Shredded evergreens can be used as mulch in almost any application as can branches left on top of the soil or snow.
- Plan for the new season. Pick a plant to specialize in this year and research it now to avoid the trial-and-error method that occurs during the garden season.
In the Indoor Garden
- Check houseplants for brown, dry edges. This may indicate a need for more humidity. Increase the humidity by grouping plants together, running a humidifier or using pebble trays.
- Let cacti go semi-dormant. Water to avoid shriveling.
- Plant seeds of limes, oranges, lemons, grapefruits and kumquats for nice looking foliage plants. Remove the seed from the fruit and plant them immediately. Do not allow them to dry out. Place in a sunny spot and water as needed.
- Grow mushrooms indoors. Mushrooms can be easily grown in the basement, bathroom or closet. A variety of mushrooms can be grown including the everyday grocery store mushroom, Shitakes, and European gourmet mushrooms.
- Leaf margins of larger foliage plants can begin to die back due to overwatering or exposure to cold temperatures. Cut the dead margins off to neaten the look of the plant. It won't harm the foliage.
- If you left some spring flowering bulbs in the basement rather than getting them planted, grab a few flower pots and some potting mix. Plant the bulbs just below the soil line and give them some water. The bulbs need about 12 weeks of cool/cold temperatures to trigger growth, so don't rush them onto a heating pad for awhile. Once you are ready for them to grow, give them the sunniest windowsill in the house.
- Consider painting the wooden handles of tools a bright orange or red to help find them in the garden next summer as well as protecting the wood.
- Consider seeds and the needs to start seedlings. Determine what will be required to nurture them sufficiently to get plants ready for the garden. Perhaps the exercise will show you that buying live plants is far easier and often just as cost-effective.
- Watch for insect hatch-outs in houseplants. Cottony formations in leaf axils signals mealy bugs, one of the more difficult insects to eradicate without resorting to chemicals. Dab them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol as soon as one is observed.
- Tap water is often chilled at this time of year. Allow it to warm to room temperature or heat it briefly in the microwave before watering plants.