The Garden in Winter
Winter is the perfect time to inspect the underlying structure of the garden and make any necessary changes to enhance its appeal. This structure is often called the "bones" of the garden. It includes permanent architectural elements such as walls and fences, but also the forms of trees, shrubs and woody perennials which add form, texture and color when deciduous plants are bare of leaves.
Gardening Tips for February
Just because the majority of perennials and trees are dormant this month doesn't mean you need to ignore your garden. Dormancy actually helps with some of the opportunities for projects this month. Much can be done to enhance your garden during the growing season if preparations are made now.
If the ground is not frozen, hardier plants like trees, shrubs and vine fruits can be planted if container grown or burlapped.
February is a great time to fertilize your fruit trees before their spring bloom.
Sharpen, clean and oil all of your hand tools so they'll be ready for the busy planting season.
Gardening Tips for March
Preparing your vegetable garden now for the seeds and seedlings ahead will save you a lot of work when it comes time to plant. Peat moss , compost, and processed manure are all great sources of organic matter to add to the soil as you turn it over or till.
Perennial vegetables such as Rhubarb, Artichokes and Asparagus can be planted now where they won't be disturbed by the annuals coming later. You can also plant Peas, Sweet Peas and Onion sets now.
If you haven't already, start seeds now for strong seedlings after the last frost date. Agway has all of the seed starting products you need.
Make sure you keep up with emerging weeds in your beds before they have a chance to go to seed. Some weeds produce thousands of seeds per plant and can really become a problem if not removed early in the season. Most weeds can be removed easily by cultivation or pulling by hand. Use a herbicide on the tougher ones.
March is a great time to plant fruit trees, berries and roses. You should also prune the roses you already have.
Late in the month when soil becomes workable, cold tolerant vegetables can be planted. These include Spinach, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Radishes, Peas, Broccoli, Lettuce and Potatoes. They should be set out about 2 weeks before the date of the last frost.
Complete any maintenance that may be necessary on lawnmowers and other pieces of power equipment. Sharpen and oil the blades on your hand tools.
Complete tree pruning before new growth begins.
Caring for house plants varies considerably depending on the plant, but in general, important factors to consider include moisture levels, light sources, planting soil, room temperature, humidity levels and the pot itself.
Cyclamen: Cyclamen persicum
Origin: Native to parts of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. These tuberous plants have the notable distinction of having species which flower in every month of the year. There are hardy, outdoor varieties and also the ones enjoyed indoors during the winter holidays.
Watering: Cyclamen prefer a moist, well-drained environment. Since this is a tuberous plant, be careful not to directly water the area where the leaf and flower stems emerge. Too much moisture can cause the plant to rot. The leaves should be firm and erect. If the plant is too dry, the leaves will feel softer to the touch. To add more humidity to a dry atmosphere, place the pot on a tray of pebbles and keep the pebbles moist.
Light: A bright indirect light from an eastern window is desirable.
Temperature: Try to maintain a daytime temperature 60-65 degrees F and night temperature around 50 degrees F.
Fertilizing: Feed with a complete liquid fertilizer about twice a month.
Amaryllis blooms brighten dreary winter days with an array of cheerful and bold colors. The flowers are popular during the holidays not only as gifts, but also as a stunning live floral decoration.
Enjoy your amaryllis as long as possible during the holidays by keeping the container out of direct sunlight that could wilt the flowers quickly. Keeping it in as cool a place as possible indoors, around 60 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal and also extends the bloom time. Once the initial flowers fade, don’t throw the flower pot out with the wrapping paper. Amaryllis can re-bloom for many years with care and attention.
Growth phase: Cut the amaryllis stalk back once it’s through blooming, leaving an inch or two above the top of the bulb. Take care not to damage leaves or any additional emerging flower stalks. It’s natural for sap to seep out of the hollow stalk.
Amaryllis have their growth phase during the late winter. Boosting leaf production now fuels next year’s flowers. The more sunlight the bulb receives the better, so move the container to the sunniest location possible. Fertilize monthly and keep the soil moist. Once the threat of frost passes in the spring, place the container outdoors in a sunny area. The move likely will cause the leaves to die, but new ones will sprout. Water daily and fertilize every other week.
Going dormant: To have amaryllis blooms for the next holiday season, the bulb’s dormant period must begin by mid-August. Stop watering then and move the pots to a cool location of about 55 degree Fahrenheit. Stop fertilizing it in late September.
As fall arrives, amaryllis can be taken indoors to a cool spot or left outside as temperatures drop. However, bring the plants inside before November 1. Earlier if a heavy frost is expected. Once inside keep the bulb rather dry and cool during dormancy. It’s common, but not necessary, for the leaves to wither for the bulb to reach complete dormancy. Check it weekly. After eight to ten weeks, the tip of the new flower stalk should emerge from the bulb.
New growth: If you move the container to a warmer spot of about 75 degrees Fahrenheit during this phase, it encourages leaves to emerge at the same time the flower stalk is developing. This warm treatment is not needed for the amaryllis bulb to bloom, though. After the three weeks have passed, repot the bulb, keeping at least one third of it above the new soil. Water the amaryllis thoroughly immediately after repotting, but let the soil dry out some before watering again. Stimulate root growth by place the newly repotted amaryllis container in a sunny, warm spot.
Large amaryllis bulbs may produce as many as three flower stalks. The stalk may have single or multiple blooms. Once the first flower opens, move the plant to a cool location with indirect light to preserve the bloom as long as possible.
Pointsettia: Euphorbia Pulcherima
Origin: Native to tropical Mexico. The US Ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Roberts-Poinsett, brought the first poinsettia flower to the United States in 1928.
Watering: Do not let the plant dry out, water when the top half of the soil feels dry to the touch. Be careful not to over water which can cause buds to drop. To add more humidity to a dry atmosphere, place the pot on a tray of pebbles and keep the pebbles moist.
Light: Place in indirect sunlight at least 6 hours a day.
Temperature: Thrives in room temperatures of 68 to 70 degrees F. Do not put plants on top of a television or near fireplaces where the heat will be excessive. Also, avoid cold drafts and temperatures below 50 degrees F. Protect plants from chilling winds when transporting during the holidays.
Fertilizing: Do not fertilize during bloom season. Resume feeding with an all-purpose fertilizer every 2 weeks after blooms fade.
Are poinsettias poisonous?
Many believe or have heard that poinsettias are poisonous when eaten. But studies conducted at Ohio State University in cooperation with the Society of American Florists have concluded that no toxicity was likely to occur in a home environment.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Start your garden early by sowing seeds in containersr indoors. Any container that drains well can be used, but many gardeners prefer peat pots or pellets placed in flats or plastic flats with many sections that are sold specifically for the purpose. Either way you choose to do it, you will gain many valuable advantages from growing your own plants from seeds. You get to control all the growing conditions, which can create plants that are healthier and more robust than those purchased in stores later in the season.
Potting soil is important. You can mix your own from sand, organic compost, fertilizer and sterilized topsoil, but most folks opt for the commercially prepared variety you can get in bags from the store. Either way, your growing medium should be free of contaminants and drain well, but should have adequate water holding capacity to provide enough water to the roots of plants.
Before planting your seeds, you’ll want to fill your pots with soil and water well the day before, allowing them to drain overnight. Follow the directions on the seed packet for planting depth and distance apart. A good rule of thumb is to plant seeds no closer together than an inch apart. Place a watertight tray under your pots and water them from the bottom to avoid damaging new seedlings. Keep about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the tray at all times.
Put your pots near a window facing south or southwest. Even with that, if it is late winter, you will need to use cool-white fluorescent plant lights. Hang the lights so that they are 2 inches above the tops of the plants and raise them as the plants grow. If you keep your plants from having to stretch up to get enough light, their stems will be stronger and will be better able to support heavy fruits and leaves later on in the season. You’ll want to give your plants 12-14 hours of light per day.
As for temperature, a little bit cooler at night will make your seedlings more robust, so don't let the heat get above 60° F once it’s dark. During the day, you should have the temperature between 70° F and 75° F. Most vegetable seeds will germinate in that range, but peppers, cabbages and tomatoes will germinate faster if kept more toward the higher end of the range. To increase heat, you can use a heating pad on its lowest setting under the tray the pots are in, but be sure to shut it off at night.
Thin your seedlings when they are about an inch tall and each have 1 pair of leaves. Use tweezers or small scissors to clip them off at the surface of the soil. This will avoid damaging the seedlings you want to keep. Thin them so that there are no more than 3 strong seedlings per 2 inch pot.
Once plants have formed their first true leaf, fertilize them every time you water with a water soluble plant food that has been mixed with double the amount of water normally used. Water every 7 to 10 days.
Sometimes, soil borne fungi can cause a problem called “damping off”. This occurs when the seedlings get dark at the soil line, fall over and die. If this happens, your soil wasn't sterile. Always use sterile potting soil for starting seeds. Letting the surface of the soil dry out in between watering can help prevent this problem also.
If insects should happen to infest your seedlings, a pesticide or insecticidal soap may be sprayed on them, but be sure to follow package directions for seedlings, not full-grown plants, or you may burn the leaves.
Before you transplant your seedlings to the garden, you’ll want to prepare them for the harsher environment by a process called “hardening off”. Reduce the light intensity and the temperature. Leave a longer period of time in between waterings. The easiest way to harden seedlings is to set them outside everyday when the weather is mild for the 2 or 3 weeks prior to transplanting. Water them only when the surface of the soil dries out. Bring them in at night if frost is expected. Make sure they are always protected from strong winds. Another way to harden off seedlings is to put them in a cold frame for a week or two.
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