University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

gmg logo Winter News Articleline


Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Growing cacti indoors, pinching leggy houseplants, and getting the longest life from cut flowers are some of the gardening activities for this month.   
Most cacti purchased at plant shops, garden stores, florists, and grocery and discount stores have some culture in common-- they prefer a growing space with plenty of sunlight and are easily killed by overwatering.  If the weather is cloudy, or even predicted to be cloudy, don't water. If in doubt whether the soil is dry, don't water. When watering, apply only a small amount to moisten the soil area around the roots. Allow the soil to become dry before additional watering.
With the stronger sun and longer days, houseplants will be putting out more new growth that can become leggy. Also these succulent shoots are very appealing to aphids. Keep pinching the growing tips and move plants around, if needed, to give them all some time in the sunniest windows. Rotating plants a quarter turn weekly will help keep them growing straight.
You'll want to get to your pruning tools in February and March for dormant-season pruning, so dig them out and clean them up if you didn't get to that in the fall. Sharpen the blades of hand pruners, loppers, and shears; oil the levers, and remove any rust. Check online and local hardware stores for diamond files for sharpening.  Pruning trees will go much faster and be easier on your hands and on the plants if you use sharp, well-maintained equipment.
If you just need some color to brighten up winter days, consider a pot or two of forced bulbs (if you didn't start your own), or some cut flowers.  Buy cut flowers in bud, just opening, for longest life.  Keep cut flowers protected on the way home from freezing, and put right in water containing a flower preservative (available at most florist shops and garden stores). 
You can make your own floral preservative with one cup lemon-lime soda (regular, not sugar free), one cup water, and a half teaspoon of household bleach.  The sugar in the soda provides energy for the flowers, and the bleach controls bacteria. If you need more liquid, just increase the amounts proportionately.
Change the water in the vase every couple of days. Avoid using daffodils in mixed bouquets, since they give off sap that is toxic to other varieties in the vase.  Shortening the vase life of these other flowers. So keep daffodils in a vase by themselves.  When you change the water on cut flowers, recut about a half-inch off the bottom of flower stems.  This helps ensure the conducting vessels don't get plugged.

To get off to a clean start with seed starting this year, disinfect any flats and pots youíve saved in soapy water with bleach added: one part bleach to nine parts water. The longer you can soak them the better, then rinse well.  Some prefer to use a household disinfectant product instead, being safer to handle, with one part disinfectant to two parts water.  Cleaning pots is a good project for a basement or garage on a warm day.
Other gardening activities for this month include ordering bare root fruit trees and shrubs for spring delivery, ordering seeds if you havenít already, sowing seeds of onions and other allium crops, checking houseplants for pests, keeping bird feeders and heated bird baths cleaned every week or two, making plans to visit a flower show, and forcing flowering branches into bloom indoors.

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

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