University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont, and
Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association

Keeping your gardening muscles in shape over the winter, fertilizing houseplants, and buying the best Valentine flowers, are some of the gardening activities for this month.

This frigid and snowy winter is posing a challenge for our feathered friends. Be sure to keep your bird feeders well stocked, especially if you have been feeding the birds since fall. They've come to depend on your help.  Suet is a great choice to put in the special, rectangular suet feeders to give birds energy to survive the cold.

Although a sunny windowsill is an ideal spot for sun-loving houseplants, be sure that the plants aren't touching the glass or they could be damaged by the cold. Also, since heating vents are often located underneath windows (and the heat has been on a lot this frigid winter), plants are prone to drying out quickly if you have such forced air heat. You may want to move plants to a different location, perhaps under grow lights, until the weather moderates.

Now that the days are getting longer, your houseplants will be resuming vigorous growth, so begin fertilizing with a soluble fertilizer. A seaweed/fish emulsion blend is a good choice -- but look for one labeled as "no odor" to avoid the usual pungent smell. You can fertilize monthly at the label recommended dilution rate, or fertilize every time you water using a quarter-strength mix.

Houseplants such as hibiscus and annual geraniums (Pelargonium) are often attacked by whiteflies. The adults are tiny, white, mothlike insects that will rise in a flutter when a plant is moved. The immature forms live on the undersides of leaves and suck the plant's juices. If left unchecked, they can cause leaf dieback. Spray plants with insecticidal soap to control them.  Often they hitch a free ride into your home on plants you purchase, so watch these especially well.

Are you keeping your gardening muscles in shape?  If not, you’ll be sorry this spring when you return to the garden.  Taking regular walks (at least three times a week) if you have sidewalks or safe roads is a good start.  Or, get out some skis or snowshoes, and use them regularly.  These are a great way to enjoy the landscape by winter.  Exercises, hand weights, and other home exercise equipment will work on other muscles.

Of course don’t forget loved ones on Valentine’s Day.  Red roses remain a favorite gift, but there are so many other rose colors, flowers, and even live plants you might consider.  If buying cut flowers, buy them just beginning to open and they’ll generally last longest.  Buy flowers or bouquets with good leaves, and flowers without breakage or disease. Protect from cold on the way home, and use a flower preservative in the water.

If you receive cut flowers, make sure and place them right in water with flower preservative.  Warm (not hot) water is taken up quicker by the stems.  Replace water every three or four days, and recut about a half inch off of stems each time you change the water.  Place flowers, cut or potted, in a cool (not cold) location for longest bloom.

Other tips for this month include ordering seeds if you plan to and haven’t; starting to watch newspapers and magazines for flower shows and seminars at local garden stores; and surfing online to find nursery websites, both local and mail order, to discover new plant introductions for this year’s garden.

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles