University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


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

Checking plant lights, starting seeds indoors, and caring for cut flowers are some of the gardening activities for this month.

If you are preparing to start seeds under grow lights or fluorescent shop lights indoors, check the tubes for signs of age. Tubes that have been used for two to three seasons probably have lost much of their intensity even though they look fine. Dark rings on the ends of the tubes are a sign they need to be replaced.  A light meter, available online or at some garden supply stores, is useful to make sure your seedlings (and houseplants) have sufficient light.

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. Then rinse well.

 Long-season alliums, such as leeks and onions, should be started from seed now. They need 10 to 12 weeks of growth indoors before they go in the garden. Sprinkle the seed on top of seed-starting mix, keep it moist, and as soon as the seedlings emerge, place the flats under grow lights so they grow strong.
For seeds that need warmth to germinate, a heat mat underneath the flat can make a big difference. Once the seedlings are up, move them off the mat and grow them on at a cooler temperature to encourage strong, stocky growth.
It's not too soon to start annuals that get off to a very slow start, such as pansies, violas, petunias, snapdragons, and lobelia. While garden centers offer some favorites, the choices are seemingly endless when your grow your own, and the quantity will be too if you save all the little seedlings.  Be sure and check out seeds of the newest All-America selections.

When buying cut flowers, arrange them in a vase of warm water, and add commercial floral preservative.  Or you can make your own with 1 cup non-diet lemon-lime soda, 3 cups water, and one-quarter teaspoon household bleach.   The sugar in the soda provides energy for the flowers, the bleach controls bacteria, and the soda acidity helps water move in stems. If you need more liquid, just increase the amounts proportionately.

Change the water in the vase every couple of days.  Don’t mix new flowers with old, as water from older flowers may be stale with bacteria.  Other tips for longest life of cut flowers include keeping them cool, and away from smoke.  Keep them away from ripening fruit too.  These often give often ethylene gas which shortens flower life.

Other gardening activities for this month include keeping suet outside for the birds, enjoying your winter landscape on skis or snowshoes, and checking stored vegetables and summer bulbs for quality.

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