University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

By February, many people start complaining of cabin fever, especially gardeners with "itchy green thumbs" who can't wait until spring to get outdoors and plant. One cure for this ailment is to "green up" your living space.

Some easy-to-grow houseplants include grape ivy (Cissus), Rex begonias, and some of the variegated philodendrons, all of which tolerate low light and dry conditions. The peace lily (Spathiphyllum) likes lots of water and will wilt when dry but revives well when watered.

Not all plants that do well in the home environment will do well in offices, however, especially windowless ones. On weekends ventilating and heating systems may be shut down or temperatures lowered. Or plants may be subjected to drafts from ventilation systems or air conditioning units, poor lighting, and low humidity.

Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen) is a good choice for an office although after several years in low light may get straggly. However, the stems root easily. For other ideas for plants for home or office settings, ask the experts at your local garden center or greenhouse. Or browse the gardening section at your local library or on the Internet, if you have access to a computer.

Another fun way to green up your indoor environment--and keep your kids entertained--is to start a garbage can garden using the tops of carrots, rutabagas, beets, and other root crops.

Cut off the top inch of the vegetable, and set in a shallow bowl. Surround with pebbles to hold in place, then fill the bowl with water. In a few days, the tops should begin sending forth fresh, ferny foliage.

Pieces of sweet potatoes (with eyes) also will produce lush, green foliage. Cut the potato in half, making sure the half you save has eyes or sprouts. With toothpicks, suspend in a glass of water, with water covering the bottom third. Within a few weeks, you should have a lush, bushy plant.

February is a bit too early to start most transplants for your garden but not too early to get ready. Check your seed supply to see what you still need to order. Purchase soil mix at your local garden store, and fill the flats. Hang the grow lights. You also may want to take a quick inventory of your gardening tools to see what needs to be replaced.

Slow-growing plants such as celery, leeks, asparagus, and onions take two to three months from seed to transplant, so you should start these this month if they are to be ready to set out in early spring. Be sure to keep seeds in a warm area to enhance germination. Once up, give them plenty of light by hanging a shop light overhead and raising it as plants grow.

Other activities for February: force forsythia and dogwood branches into bloom indoors; visit the Montreal Botanical Gardens greenhouses; check stored produce for signs of spoilage.

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