Gardening Tips for January & February
For much of the country, January and February are months to reflect on last year’s gardening season and start planning for the new year. There isn’t much that absolutely must be done in the garden during these months but there are plenty of things to think about!
Avoid walking or driving on frozen lawns – This this can injure turf grasses. Once the crown is damaged, the grass is unlikely to grow back in spring.
Prune promptly – Any tree and shrub limbs damaged by ice or snow should be pruned off promptly to prevent bark from tearing.
Don’t remove ice – In case of an ice storm, allow ice to melt off your plants naturally. Attempting to remove ice can damage the plants.
On icy paths and driveways – Scatter sand, bird seed, sawdust, cat litter or vermiculite to avoid slipping. Avoid salt or ice melters as these may injure plants.
Check for frost heaving on perennials – If you can, push them back into the ground and cover them with extra mulch as necessary.
Gently brush off heavy snows from tree and shrub branches. Don’t shake the branches or hit them with a broom or shovel as they could break.
Check all smaller trees for evidence of rodent injury to the bark – Be sure to pull away any snow around the tree as rodents will burrow under the snow to get at the tender bark on young trees. Use baits or traps where necessary, and wrap the bottom of susceptible trees with tree wrap (be sure to remove it when the snow melts).
Secure fencing and protective wrap – Make sure that any fencing or protective wrap around plants is secure. You don’t want it flying away in the next wind storm!
Check for insect pests – You’ll also want to check the bark and branches of ornamental trees and shrubs for scale insects and the egg masses of gypsy moth, tent caterpillar, and other harmful pests. Remove or destroy these egg masses (prune or scratch off with your fingernail) to eliminate hundreds of these plant-eating pests before they hatch. You can also use horticultural oil to control scale; it’s much easier when there aren’t any leaves on the plant.
Check on stored summer bulbs – If you’re overwintering tender bulbs, such as dahlias, cannas and gladioli, check to be sure they are not rotting or drying out. If any are soft, look discolored or seem to be rotting, toss them. And any that are sprouting should be moved to a darker, cooler area.
Start planning – Now is a good time to make an inventory of the plants in your garden and start planning. Which did well last year? Which ones did you particularly like? Do any need to be started from seed? If so, when? Look back on any photos, notes or sketches you may have. Where are there areas that need a little more “oomph”? And which plants need to be divided or moved? All of this will help you determine whether you need to order any plants or seeds before all the catalogs start to arrive!
In case of a thaw – This is the perfect time to apply an anti-desiccant to newly planted narrow-leaved or broad-leaved evergreens. Don’t spray an antidesiccant during freezing temperatures.
Don’t forget about your houseplants – Give them as much light as possible (a grow bulb can be helpful during the short days of winter) and mist them regularly to increase humidity (the air inside your house tends to dry out due to heating and the drier winter air). Houseplants tend to grow more slowly during winter so don’t be alarmed if they appear to be “taking a break.”
Keep houseplants warm – On particularly frigid days or nights, move plants away from windows or put a layer of cardboard between the plant and the window so that they don’t freeze, and keep your houseplants protected from drafts of hot or cold air.
Watch for indoor pests – Keep an eye open for aphids, mites and fungus gnats as they tend to flourish on houseplants in the dry winter air inside your home. Keeping the soil a little drier than usual will help control fungus gnats which insecticidal soap or a strong spray of water should help with aphids and mites.
Nice To Do
Feed the birds – Attract insect-hunting woodpeckers to your garden by hanging cakes of suet in trees. Keep bird feeders filled with fresh seed throughout the winter. I like to buy seed from Wild Birds Unlimited – the stores carry fresh seed that’s appropriate for the birds in your local area.
Paint or rubberize – Clean any gardening tools that got missed in the fall clean up. Consider painting the handles with bright colors so you won’t lose them in the garden. Or dip the handles in dip (such as Plasti Dip). Not only will they stand out in the garden but the rubber provides a softer surface to hold onto.
Window shop – Grab a cup of tea or coffee (or maybe a glass of wine!) and curl up with the gardening catalogs that start to arrive this month. But don’t be tempted to buy everything that looks beautiful – make sure you have a plan for your garden first!
Reuse and Recycle – Old Christmas trees can be recycled outdoors as a windbreak or a feeding station for birds. String garlands of peanuts, popcorn, cranberries, fruits and suet through their branches. Or, if you don’t want a dead tree in your yard, cut off the boughs and use them as a winter mulch for perennials.
Play catch-up with bulbs – If you didn’t get your bulbs planted before the ground froze, plant them immediately in individual peat pots and place the pots in flats. Set them outside where it’s cold and bury the bulbs under thick blankets of leaves. Transplant them into the garden any time weather permits.
Test your seeds – If you have leftover seeds, try sprouting a test sample before ordering new seeds for spring. Just roll up a dozen seeds in a damp paper towel, keep it moist and warm, and see how many germinate. If only half sprout, it’s time to order new seeds.
Force blooms – Prune forsythia, pussy willow, quince, and other early spring-blooming shrubs to force indoors.
Plan your growing schedule – Start a seed starting and growing calendar. List all the seeds you plan to start indoors or directly in the garden. Check the seed packets for recommended seeding dates. Then list these dates in your calendar so you are sure to get all your seeds planted in a timely manner.
Note: The gardening tasks described here are for gardeners in zone 6. Tasks may be done earlier, or later, if you live in warmer or colder areas.