University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist and
Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Horticulturist
Rooting annual geraniums, starting the first seeds indoors, and forcing branches into bloom are some of the gardening activities for this month.

Geraniums that you brought indoors this winter are probably getting tall and leggy by now if they're not growing under artificial grow lights. Prune back errant branches and take 4- to 6-inch cuttings to root. Strip off the bottom set of leaves, dip the cut ends in rooting hormone powder, and stick the cuttings in a pot filled with moistened potting soil. Keep the soil moist, and they should root in a few weeks.

Now is a good time to take inventory of your supplies for seed starting. Check quantities of potting soil, containers, labels, etc.  Wash any used containers, then sterilize 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 2 parts water).

Long-season alliums, such as leeks and onions, should be started from seed now. The very tiny wax begonias should be started this month too, as well as pansies.  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. Snip the ends of the alliums periodically to keep them about 3 to 4 inches tall and help them grow strong. A heating mat (inexpensive ones can be found online and in complete garden stores) under seed flats will keep the sowing medium warm, helping germination.
Give the gift of fragrance this Valentine's Day with freesias, tuberoses, Oriental lilies, hyacinths, or any other flowers that will perfume the air.  Just make sure others in your home aren’t allergic to their smells.  Or make a fragrant spring gift basket with small pots of hyacinths and other bulbs set in a larger basket, topped with Spanish moss. If not sure what a person may want, splurge on a gift certificate for fresh flower bouquets from a local florist. 

Now is a good time to repot any houseplants with roots coming out of the drainage holes. Choose a pot one size larger than the current pot, remove the plant, trim any errant roots, and repot using fresh potting soil that you can buy in bags at most garden outlets.

As soon as the buds start to swell, it's time to begin pruning apple, plum, and cherry trees. Don’t prune when bitterly cold to avoid possible branch damage, and for your own comfort. Japanese plum trees and peaches (if hardy in your area) should be pruned to an open center, while apples, cherries, pears, and other plums grow best pruned to a modified leader (center is more closed and tree is more upright). Remove any dead, diseased, or broken branches, as well as crossing branches and twiggy, nonproductive growth.

While you're pruning flowering trees, such as crabapple and plum, cut some 2-foot sections of pruned limbs with flower buds on them (flower buds are larger than leaf buds). The best way to hydrate the stems is to lay them down in a bathtub of water overnight. If anyone in your house objects, just recut the stems, place them in a bucket of warm water, and keep them in a cool place for a week or so. When flowers begin to open, bring them into your living room and your house will smell of spring even though the snow may still be flying outdoors.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; 

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