A Mid-Winter Garden Calendar.
It may seem to you that there is nothing under the sun to do at this time of the year that involves your gardens and gardening, except, of course, to read the catalogs that keep showing up. If I'm correct, Groundhog Day is the nearest to mid-winter.
Not just so that you won't get bored, but also, to give you a leg up on the not too distant spring that we're all longing for, I've put together a string of things that you can tackle at your leisure. Or, if you are chomping at the bit to get into the mood, you can attack it with fervor. It is guaranteed to motivate you to do things not on the list, things that you might newly think about, or, maybe, overlooked in the fall.
On a clear bright sunny day, we all long to go out and take a leisurely walk around the property, even if the thermometer indicates it's very cold. Maybe it's a thaw or nice mild spell; all the better. While outside, check on your bird nesting boxes. Did you remember to clean them out in the fall? If not, here is an opportunity.
If you put up protection from browsing deer or falling ice for treasured plants and shrubs, check to see if they are still in place and effective enough to do the job. If not, repair or replace what won't work. Maybe you can bring them inside to do this, or, maybe it's a quick and easy job on the spot.
If the ground isn't frozen, take a walk around your property. Collect deadfall. It is often good kindling wood. Put it a wheelbarrow. While you're out there, investigate favorite plants for egg masses of gypsy moths, and eastern tent caterpillars, and look for spruce galls that contain the coming seasons aphids. These are all easily recognizable once you've become acquainted with what they look like.
Scrape off the egg masses of gypsy moths and eastern tent caterpillars into a container of soapy water. Prune off the small pineapple shaped spruce galls into the water, too. Don't leave any of these on the ground.
While outside, if the ground is not snow-covered, make sure mulches are still in place. Check any bulbs and perennials planted in the fall to make sure the freeze/thaw experience has not thrust them up out of the ground. This is commonly known as frost heaving. If it has, do not try to force them back. This can damage the roots. Just add more mulch to cover any exposed roots.
If the ground is not frozen, you might turn your compost and water trees and shrubs planted in the fall. Take a soil sample or two from a depth of six inches for testing if it hasn't been done in the last two years.
If it is frigid, check walks and pathways that need to be kept clear. Are there any sensitive plants near by? If so, use plant friendly deicing tools such as sawdust, sand, cat litter, urea fertilizer, or wood ash. Deicing salts should be a last resort. A sturdy boot brush near each entrance and dry slippers waiting inside is all it takes to comply with garden friendship in winter.
Have you noticed a great spot for that cold frame you haven't gotten around to building? Measure the space. This is a great winter project and can be finished in time to be used this coming season.
While outside, visit the tool shed. Wooden handled tools have a habit of deteriorating if not protected. They also have a habit of getting lost in the outdoors. Any that need a little sprucing up can go right into the wheelbarrow. Clean the handles well and paint a bright color easy to find in taller grass or among some leaves. The business end, usually steel, can be wire brushed and oiled or coated with WD 40. Loppers, shears, saw blades have a tendency to become coated with sap and pine pitch. This can easily be removed with paint thinner, then sharpened and lubricated.
Don't forget to service tools like lawn mowers and rototillers. Most shops that service these are quiet now. You can get them in and returned quickly.
If it is a warm spell, you might re-apply anti-desiccants and anti-transpirants to shrubs in danger of drying out from wind exposure.
Valentine's Day isn't far off. Consider giving a living plant. While you're at the nursery, look for sales on fertilizer, seed starting supplies, mulch material, and tools.
If your houseplants are beginning to show some new growth, it's a good time to begin rooting some cuttings of your favorites. You can also start fertilizing them at half strength once a month. If houseplants are a specialty, now is also a good time to do some other propagating: tall or leggy plants might be Dracaena marginata (dragon tree), Dieffenbachia (dumb cane), and Ficus elastica (rubber tree). These can be successfully air layered. They form roots right on the plant while sharing nutrients with the rest of the plant.
Check to see which of your houseplants needs repotting. As the days lengthen, this is a good time to know and act accordingly.
Be watchful of insect pests on houseplants. The big four are aphids, scales, mealy bugs, and spider mites. Horticultural oil and insecticidal soap are first options that give good results. Follow the label directions. Scales and mealy bugs usually require a more hands on approach using cotton tipped swabs.
Disinfect empty pots and seedlings trays. After cleaning them, soak them briefly in a 10% bleach and water solution. Let them air dry.
Inventory your leftover seeds and perform a viability test. Place ten seeds on a moist paper towel. Place in a labeled plastic bag; put in a warm place for two weeks. Check to see how many germinated. If five or fewer germinated, re-order new ones.
Continue to make plans for your gardens and beds. Plan a new raised bed, and/or a cutting garden. Make a map of your plantings. Plan a crop rotation.
It is getting close to the time you want to begin planning your seed starting activities. Order seeds soon. Try something new. Spring officially arrives March 20th at 8:07 P.M. EDT. We have plenty to do between now and then. Let's get into the mood.
From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on February 7, 2007
© 2005 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.