Sara Swanson

January Gardening Advice for Manchester 2017

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House plants like this Cyclamen sp. need the light coming through the windows in the winter, but don't let their leaves touch the cold glass.

House plants like this Cyclamen sp. need the light coming through the windows in the winter, but don’t let their leaves touch the cold glass.

by Jennifer Fairfield

Editor’s Note: Manchester resident Jennifer Fairfield owns and operates the Garden Mill in Chelsea, serves on the Manchester Community Garden Committee, and volunteers with the school gardens at Klager and the MECC.

January is, I think, the hardest month to be a gardener. I look outside daily, seeing the things I want to work on – moving the prairie smoke that I unwittingly planted in a low spot that doesn’t drain well, where the plants will never make it; finding and planting the last few native varieties I want to fill out the new bed I started this spring (and didn’t finish because it got so horribly hot and I didn’t want to be out in it!); dividing and moving the sedum that has gotten way too big for its space, and was looking floppy by the end of the season; and more. There seems to be a never-ending list of things I want to do, and I spend the month of January dreaming about doing it. I can’t wait until spring!

While we’re waiting for spring, there are some things we can be doing, besides dreaming:

  • Spend some time turning those dreams into plans. Write down what you want to get done: plants that need to be divided or moved, areas that need to be filled in, beds that need more mulch, new varieties you want to give a try. By starting your list now, you will be ready to start when the weather starts to improve.
  • Seed catalogs have started to come in, and I love going through them to see what’s new and what I might like to give a try in my veggie garden this year. As I go through them, I make a list of things I want to look for in the local stores this year. Seeds usually start showing up in early February, and I like to get mine early so that I can be sure to get the best selection.
  • This is a good time to devote some time and effort to your indoor plants, which tend to get neglected during the outdoor season. Take some time to clean off the leaves, which if they are anything like mine, are covered with a fine layer of dust. That layer of dust can keep the plants from getting sun, which is already in short supply at this time of year. Moving your plants closer to the windows can also help, but be sure that their leaves are not touching the cold glass, or that they aren’t in drafty areas.
  • Make sure your indoor plants are getting enough humidity at this time, too. If you don’t have a whole-house humidifier, and it’s not possible to have a room humidifier in every room where you have plants, there are still ways to increase the humidity around them. One way is to put the plant on a tray of pebbles that is kept filled with water. The plant’s roots won’t be in the water all the time, but the evaporating water will humidify the air around the plant. You can also put trays of water out around the plants to accomplish the same thing.
  • Don’t fertilize indoor plants for the next few months, as they need a resting period just like outdoor plants. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as African violets, which need to be fertilized regularly to keep blooming.
  • Outside, now would be a good time to take advantage of the warmer temperatures and lack of snow to finish mulching any plants you didn’t get to in the fall. The quick cool-down that we got, followed by the quick warm up in the last week or so, can be very hard on plants. Frost-heave is a real danger under these circumstances, and can harm or kill your plants. So, take a walk around your yard – do you see any plants that look like their roots have been pushed up out of the soil? If so, gently push the plants back down into the soil, and give them a good mulching. Are there areas in your garden beds where the mulch is a little low? Fill in bare spots with mulch to protect the plants from the next cycle of cold and warm-up that is bound to start any day now. And if you didn’t get burlap screens up around your evergreens, finish that task now, too. The high winds of winter, combined with the frozen ground that doesn’t allow the plants to take up water, are the perfect combination to cause your evergreens to dry out and sustain significant damage. Screening them with burlap can make all the difference to their survival.
  • When we do get the next big snow, take a look at your trees – especially the evergreens – to see if the snow is weighing down branches. If so, it might be a good idea to try to clear the snow from them to prevent damage. Gently brush the snow off, but be careful not to bang on the branches, as that can do even more harm.  Don’t try to remove ice that is encasing branches though. You can cause far more damage than the ice on its own. Let it melt off naturally, and enjoy the beauty of the ice sparkling in the sun.
  • And of course, don’t forget the birds! Keeping the feeders clean and filled can be a time-consuming task, but one that will bring lots of pleasure as you watch your feathered friends show their appreciation for all your hard work.
  • Water is also important for your birds. With temperatures going below freezing, water is hard to find when you live outdoors, and birds can’t work faucets. Putting out a heated birdbath or putting a de-icer in your birdbath can be a literal lifesaver for birds during the winter.

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