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GENERAL GARDENING TIPS

  • Start a garden record book, allowing space to record the dates of first and last frosts, seed-planting dates, transplanting, time of bloom, first fruit, fertilizing, problems with pests, and what worked and didn't work. Over a period of years, this will be an invaluable record. 
  • When using salt to melt ice on walks and driveways, spread it carefully to avoid damage to nearby shrubs. Consider using sand, cat litter or sawdust instead.
  • It's not too early to begin to think of a strategy for new spring plantings. You might want to create a drawing of your garden, and use it as a guide for ordering plants and seeds from the catalogs that will be arriving in the mail soon.
  • When planning changes for next spring, for easier lawn maintenance, consider correcting hard to mow spaces. Eliminate acute angles in beds and borders. Combine single trees or shrubs into a large planting connected with ground cover. Put the bird bath in a flower bed or surround it with ground cover.
  • To clean crusty clay pots, add one cup each of white vinegar and household bleach to a gallon of warm water and soak the pots. For heavily crusted pots, scrub with a steel wool pad after soaking for 12 hours.
  • If you have not already done so, move cast stone and pottery to the garage or basement in order to prevent damage during the cold winter season. If containers are too large to move, cover them to prevent water collecting in them or turn them upside down during the winter so water will not collect, freeze and cause breakage.
  • Fireplace ashes can be saved to use as fertilizer for your Iris and other alkaline soil loving plants. Take care not to use too much.
  • Make sure your lawn is free of leaves. Rake up and chop the leaves to use as mulch or to add to your compost pile.
  • It’s still a good time to have a soil test done through Penn State Cooperative Extension. Their phone number is 412-473-2540.

SHRUBS & TREES

  • Brush snow from evergreens as soon as possible after a storm. Use a broom in an upward, sweeping motion. Serious damage may be caused by heavy snow or ice accumulating on the branches.
  • When pruning large limbs, always undercut first. This means to cut from the bottom up, one-third of the way through the limb, then finish by cutting from the top. The undercut keeps the limb from splitting and breaking off, which could damage the trunk and become an entryway for insects and diseases. Do not cut flush to the trunk, the collar or enlarged base of a branch produces hormones that help heal wounds.
  • This month is a good time to start pruning most of your deciduous trees and shrubs 'except spring bloomers. To learn some basic pruning tips read Pruning Made Easy.
  • Forsythia, and Quince branches can be cut and brought into the house now for forcing. The warmth in the home will bring some early bloom to your room.
  • If a thaw occurs, apply an anti-desiccant to newly planted narrow-leaved or broad-leaved evergreens

PERENNIALS, ANNUALS and BULBS

  • You can force Hyacinth, Paper White Narcissus, and Lily of the Valley bulbs into bloom indoors, in a shallow bowl of water, or in pots this month.
  • Check any bulbs and tubers you may have stored to determine the moisture level. Repack bulbs that seem too damp, discarding any moldy ones. If bulbs seem too dry, try moving them to another location.
  • There is still time to force spring flowering bulbs for late winter indoor bloom. For step by step directions read Forcing Bulbs for Winter Color 

FRUITS & VEGGIES

  • When reviewing your garden catalogs for new vegetable varieties to try, an important consideration is improved insect and/or disease resistance. Watch also for drought-tolerant types. 
  • Plant containers of herbs for fresh herbs all winter. To learn more about growing herbs indoors read Growing Herbs Indoors This Winter.
  • Remember to wash and sterilize seed-starting containers before planting seeds. Use 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.
  • Before placing your seed orders, do a germination test on stored seeds to see how viable they are. To do this, place 20 seeds between two sheets of moist paper towels and tuck into a loosely tied plastic bag. Place in a warm area, and check every few days. If germination is less than 80 percent, consider purchasing new seed of that crop.

THE LAWN

  • Avoid heavy traffic on the dormant lawn. Frozen grass is easily broken and the plant may be severely damaged or killed.

BIRDS & OTHER WILDLIFE

  • Feed the birds regularly and see that they have water. Birds like suet, fruit, nuts, and bread crumbs as well as bird seed. Remember to supply fresh water too.

HOUSEPLANTS

  • To prolong bloom, protect poinsettias from drafts and keep them moderately moist.
  • January is a good time to evaluate the health of your houseplants and repot those that are struggling. For repotting instructions read How to Repot a Houseplant.
  • Turn and prune house plants regularly to keep them shapely. Pinch back new growth to promote bushy plants.
  • During the winter most houses are too dry for house plants. Humidity may be increased by placing plants on trays lined with pebbles and filled with water to within one half inch of the base of the pot.
  • House plants with large leaves and smooth foliage, such as philodendrons, dracaena and rubber plant benefit if their leaves are washed at intervals to remove dust. Dust on the foliage can clog the leaf's pores; so clean them up a little with a damp cloth, or a quick shower under the tap.
  • Actively growing plants will benefit from a shot of liquid plant food.
  • On very cold nights, it is a good to close the curtains or blinds between the window and your houseplants to keep them warm.
  • Closely inspect houseplants. Remove aphids from houseplants with a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water and add a drop of dishwashing detergent. Apply this to troubled plants with a soft brush.
  • Provide extra protection to houseplants on window sills if it is very cold. Place cardboard between the plants and the glass. Be sure the plants don't touch the windowpanes.
  • If you received a poinsettia or cyclamen as a holiday gift, keep it blooming by providing proper care. They like good drainage, so if the pot is still wrapped in foil, remove the foil or make a hole in the bottom to allow the water to drain out. Keep soil moist, but don't overwater.
  • The cyclamen with its unique blossoms needs to be kept cool and evenly moist. Too high temperatures, too little water, or too low light may cause leaves to yellow and drop. But with proper care, the plant should continue to bloom for six to eight weeks.
  •  Houseplants can improve the health of your family and improve the beauty and livability of your home. To learn more read  Houseplants, for better health.
  • For tips on winter houseplant care read Winter Tips for Houseplant Care.

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