University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
LOOKING FOR MITES AND OTHER JANUARY
Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist
Checking houseplants for spider mites and other insects, cleaning bird
feeders, and disinfecting seed starting containers are some of the gardening
activities for this month.
Aphids and spider mites may be multiplying like crazy amidst your
houseplants, especially if they are grouped close together. Isolate each
plant and inspect it closely with a magnifying glass if necessary. Aphids
are easier to see, come in many colors, and move about on new growth and
stems in particular. Look under leaves and where leaves join stems for
the characteristic webbing of spider mites. Palms and English ivy are
favorites of spider mites.
Treat these pests by holding the plant and pot upside down and submerging
the foliage in a sink full of soapy water (wrap aluminum foil over the soil
to keep it from falling out). Use a mild detergent, or weak solution, so not
to damage the plant leaf surfaces. In severe cases, spray the plant
with insecticidal soap or similar insecticide for indoors.
Birds deserve clean food surfaces as much as we do. Every few weeks bring
the feeders inside and wash them with soap and water into which a little
bleach has been added (one part bleach to nine parts water). Rinse
thoroughly and dry.
If you have a heated bird bath (a good idea if you don't), make sure to
clean it every few days too. I have an old brush just for this
purpose. Don't use your kitchen one that is used on eating
surfaces. Of course these can just be cleaned outdoors when filling
Take inventory of trays, pots, and six-packs from past years and discard any
that are cracked. To get off to a clean start with seed starting this year,
disinfect flats and pots in soapy water with bleach added: one part bleach
to nine parts water. The longer you can soak them, the better, but at least
try for 10 minutes. Then rinse well. Be sure to scrub off any soil before
this cleansing rinse. If you prefer not to use bleach due to its
chlorine fumes and caustic nature, a household disinfectant (such as the
Lysol brand) can be used instead, with one part of it to two parts water.
If that geranium or coleus you're overwintering inside has sent out spindly
new shoots, keep trimming it back until the increased sunlight can support
sturdier growth. If you have low light, keeping the plant in a cooler
location (50 to 60 degrees F) may help.
Orchids are one of the most popular flowering potted plants now, and a
common one often found in garden stores and retail chain stores is the moth
orchid (Phalaenopsis). When in flower, they need consistent
temperatures of above 60 degrees at night and above 70 during the day. In
New England, a south window in winter is not too much light, whereas it
would be too much in summer.
Fertilize orchids with a dilute liquid orchid fertilizer (high phosphorous,
low nitrogen). Let the soil dry out somewhat between waterings but not get
completely dry. The flowers can be damaged by gas from a stove, cigarette
smoke, and other chemicals in the air. If buds drop before opening, raise
the humidity with a room humidifier or by grouping plants together on top of
pebbles in a tray with water up to the bottom of the pebbles.
Other gardening activities for this month include keeping bird feeders
filled daily or as needed, checking stored summer bulbs (like dahlias) and
root crops (like winter squash) for rots, and studying seed catalogs and
online websites for new varieties for this year’s garden.
(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known
horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach;
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