Jan’s online garden hints

Jan’s February Tips

-Get seed and plant orders in as early as possible so you won’t be disappointed. Prevent poor performance of your garden plants by ordering disease-resistant varieties whenever possible.

-To prepare for starting seeds indoors, collect containers such as milk cartons, paper cups or cardboard boxes, and punch drainage holes in the bottoms. If you want to recycle pots left over from last year’s bedding plants, rinse them out and run them through the dishwasher, or sterilize them in a 10 percent solution of chlorine bleach.

-Use a ready-made, soilless mix formulated for indoor seedlings.

-Store completely-cooled fireplace ashes to use as a source of potassium in the garden next spring. (Remember to use the ashes sparingly for most plants and not at all for fertilizing acid-loving plants such as blueberries and azaleas.)

-Get mower blades sharpened now, before the spring rush. Buy an extra blade, too, so you’ll always have a sharp blade on hand.

-Build a coldframe to stretch your garden season in both spring and fall.

-Stockpile empty milk jugs. As you have time, cut the bottoms from the jugs to get them ready to provide temporary protection for your new garden transplants this spring.

-To brighten the house with fresh flowers, bring in branches of crabapple, flowering dogwood, flowering quince, forsythia, magnolia, pussy willow, redbud or serviceberry. Put the branches in a vase of warm water. Every day or two, change the water. Keep the vase out of direct sun. Expect the buds to start opening in several weeks.

Vegetables, fruits and herbs:

-Sketch a plan for your vegetable garden. Remember to rotate each crop (especially tomatoes and all members of the cabbage family) to a new spot to decrease problems with diseases and pests.

-Start broccoli, cabbage, celery, head lettuce, leek, onion, and pepper seeds indoors.

-When you prune grapes, keep in mind that the vines bear fruit only on year-old wood. Leave four branches on the central trunk, plus four short shoots that can grow to produce next year’s crop. Remove any mummies, which can spread disease.

Flowering plants:

Watch for blooms of the season’s first tiny bulbs such as multicolored snow crocuses, white snowdrops, and yellow winter aconites. On warm days watch for the unfurling of the strap-like yellow petals of vernal witch hazel flowers.

-If you didn’t get your tulips and other hardy spring-flowering bulbs planted last fall, don’t try to save them until this coming autumn. Instead, plant them as soon as a patch of ground thaws enough for digging the planting holes.

-Start seeds of begonia, geranium, lisianthus, pansy, snapdragon, stock and viola indoors.

-Check stored cannas, dahlias and other bulbs and tubers in storage. Throw out any that are rotted, shriveled or riddled by pests.

Around the yard:

-During any prolonged warm spell, check shallow-rooted plants such as chrysanthemums and strawberries. If alternating freezing and thawing have pushed the roots out of the soil, use your foot to gently push the plants back into place. Shovel extra snow over perennials to help protect them from fluctuating temperatures, but avoid using snow from areas where you’ve applied deicing salts.

-Water evergreens any time the soil isn’t frozen or covered with snow.

-Inspect trees and shrubs for damage from rabbits. If necessary, install a cylinder of wire mesh or other barrier to prevent further damage.

-Use mild days to get an early start on pruning trees and shrubs. Remove any broken, diseased or rubbing branches. If a young tree has two leaders, remove one. Also remove any thin, upright shoots arising from previous pruning cuts or from the ground. Prune oaks now while they’re dormant to avoid attracting insects that can spread oak wilt.

-For pruning jobs too big to tackle with hand tools, call a professional arborist. Don’t let anyone talk you into “topping” a mature tree, which not only looks bad but also encourages weak, fast-growing, upright sprouts from every cut.

-Renew shrubs such as forsythia and lilacs by removing at ground level one-third of the thickest branches.