University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Winter News Article
DORMANT OILS AND OTHER FEBRUARY GARDENING TIPS
Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant
dormant oil sprays if needed, inventorying seed supplies, and learning
about “clean air” houseplants, are some of the garden activities for
Now is a good time to take inventory of your
supplies for seed starting. Check quantities of potting soil,
containers, labels and similar supplies. Wash any used containers, then
disinfect them with a 10 percent bleach solution (one part bleach to
ten parts water), or less corrosive solution of a household
disinfectant such as Lysol (one part to two parts water).
break in the cold brings temperatures above 40 degrees, it's a good
time to spray dormant oil on landscape plants infested with scale and
other overwintering pests. The oil will smother the insects. Only
apply when the temperature is predicted to stay around 40 degrees, or
above, for at least 24 hours. And, as with any pesticide, make
sure to follow label directions. Some plants, such as maples, may
be injured from it and, if overused, it can remove some of the blue
color from blue spruces. Dormant oils are useful to control some
scale insects, such as magnolia scale, and mites which overwinter as
exposed eggs (not the two-spotted mites).
While many consider
genetically modified (GMO) crops as bad, there now is potentially a
good plant use—for a houseplant. Researchers at the University of
Washington (www.washington.edu/news) introduced a synthetic version of
a protein (2E1), which occurs in mammals, into pothos or devil’s
ivy. In humans, this protein is found in the liver and becomes
active when we drink alcohol. So, in this common vining
houseplant, it turns on to break down the volatile organic compounds
(VOCs) benzene and chloroform. The former in homes comes from
stored power equipment in connected rooms, such as garages. The
latter chemical is present in small amounts in chlorinated water.
This plant could really be helpful, as these chemicals are too small to
be captured by HEPA filters.
Although pothos was one of the
original “Clean Air” plants, found in the 1980’s by NASA’s Dr.
Wolverton of removing some air pollutants, the Washington researchers
found that their unmodified pothos plants didn’t remove these
chemicals. They’re now trying to modify pothos further, to remove
another indoor pollutant—formaldehyde. This harmful chemical
comes from some wood products, such as cabinets and laminate flooring,
and tobacco smoke.
Other top clean air plants to
consider include areca palm, rubber plant, Janet Craig dracaena, Boston
fern, and peace lily. You can find more about these, and others,
from the book by Dr. Wolverton (How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants
that Purify Your Home or Office).
When tree and shrub branches
bend under the weight of a new snowfall, use a broom to gently brush
off the snow. Don't try to remove ice or you might break the branch.
It's possible to save a large branch that partially splits from the
main trunk if you tie it in place and use long screws (coming from each
direction, if necessary) to secure it. If done right away, the tree may
callous over the wound and heal itself during warm days.
activities for this month include keeping birds fed regularly and
heated bird baths cleaned every few days; starting small seeds indoors,
such as begonias and pansies; checking houseplants for pests weekly,
and fertilizing them if they’re growing; and buying some cut flowers or
potted spring bulbs for Valentine’s Day, or just to brighten up your
Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening
consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).
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