University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Article


Charlie Nardozzi, Chairman of the Board of Directors
Vermont Botanical Garden, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Checking seed supplies, checking stored summer bulbs, cleaning pots, and cleaning bird feeders are some of the garden activities for this month.

Now is a good time to take inventory of your gardening supplies for this season's seed starting. Check quantities of potting soil, containers, and labels. Make sure and wash any used containers from last year with soapy water.  If quite dirty, you may want to pre-wash them in a bucket to keep all the dirt from clogging your drains.  Then, disinfest from possible disease with a 10 percent bleach solution (one part bleach with 9 parts water).

Remember when you are clearing your driveway or walks with a snowblower this winter to direct the snow away from plants. Otherwise, the blowing ice crystals may damage the tender bark of young trees and shrubs. Or, alternatively, protect plants still above the snow with a wrapping of burlap.

Most don't think of cleaning their bird feeders, but you should to keep your birds from possibly getting sick.  It's midwinter and birds have been visiting your feeder for months. To minimize the spread of disease at your feeder, disinfest the feeder monthly with a solution of one part bleach to 9 parts water, then rinse thoroughly with water. Clean droppings off the perching area, and make sure your bird food isn't moldy.

The same applies to heated birdbaths.  Don't just top them up, but clean regularly.  Each time I refill, I dump leftover water out, then brush off any residue and rinse.

Any gladiolus, dahlias,  tuberous begonias, or other summer bulbs you have stored in the basement should be checked periodically throughout the winter. If the bulbs or tubers seem shriveled, mist them with water. If some are rotting, remove the rotten ones.  Then repack them with fresh materials and don't overwater.

Check guards around trees for any signs of mice, vole, or rabbit damage. Sometimes, with a deep snow cover, animals can reach above the guards to nibble on tree bark. Pack the snow down around trees so the guards will remain effective.

If you give or receive cut flowers this month, follow a few tips to make them last longer. Recut the ends of roses and other cut flowers under water. Then place the flowers in a clean vase filled with warm water. Change the water two or three times a week, recutting the stem ends each time. Contrary to some popular opinions, adding aspirin or lemon-lime soda to the water may not significantly increase the flower life.  Using a flower preservative, available from complete garden stores and florist shops, is best.

Other tips for February include rotating your houseplants periodically towards the light so they don't grow lopsided.  If they are actively growing, with all the winter light reflected from the snow, don't forget to fertilize according to label directions.

Toward the end of the month, start slow seeds (generally the smallest ones) such as wax-leaf begonias.  Use the extra day this month during leap year to catch up on garden reading!

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