University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Dr. Vern Grubinger, Extension Associate Professor
University of Vermont

With the start of a new century, why not resolve to live a more ecological lifestyle? Do you recycle and compost household waste? If so, that's a good start. But there's more you can do.

How about growing more food in your garden? That can save trips to the supermarket and improve the nutrition of your family. Planning ahead will help you garden without the use of pesticides.

When leafing through the onslaught of seed catalogs that arrive in your mailbox this month, look for varieties that are disease-resistant. Why? You're less likely to need fungicides. Think about the pests that frequent certain crops every year, such as flea beetles, cucumber beetles, and Colorado potato beetles. Order plenty of floating row covers now, so you'll be prepared to keep these pests off the plants early in the season without having to spray.

If you do have to apply a pesticide, consider low-impact sprays like Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) or insecticidal soap. More toxic pesticides should only be used as a last resort, and then always follow label directions carefully.

If you are planning to landscape your property this spring, consider plants that work well with the environment. For example, choose ground covers for steep slopes to prevent soil erosion. Deciduous trees will offer natural air conditioning along the sunnier sides of your house.

To help reduce water use, think about purchasing drought-resistant varieties, if available. Use drip irrigation systems instead of overhead sprinklers to conserve water and reduce the incidence of foliar diseases. Using plastic for mulching helps plants retain moisture--and keeps the weeds down--without the use of herbicides.

There also are a few environmentally friendly things you can do this winter. When clearing snow from sidewalks and driveways, don't pile it near plants or shrubs or where melting snow will drain. When the snow melts, generously flush the area around roots exposed to salt with water. Or better yet, use kitty litter or wood ashes from the stove to "de-ice" your walkways.

If you had a Christmas tree, "recycle" it by putting it in the backyard to provide shelter for birds and small animals. Or take it to a landfill that accepts trees for "chipping" into mulch.

You can use branches from the tree or evergreen boughs used for holiday decorations to provide additional protection for your landscape plants, especially if snow cover is light. The pine needles can be used to make an aromatic pot pourri.

Recycling also comes into play if you are repotting houseplants. Instead of buying new terra cotta or plastic pots, search your attic, basement, or local flea market for unusual containers. Decorative food tins (rinsed well), old boots, small kitchen appliances, and even children's toys all make interesting containers for plants.

A few words of caution though. Plants need good drainage to thrive. For best results, make a small hole at the bottom of the container. If this isn't possible, then place a shallow layer of pebbles on the bottom of the container, and plant in small pots and place these inside. If using metal containers, select plants that don't require direct sunlight as the sun will heat up the container and "fry" the roots.

Other activities for January: get in shape for gardening by taking winter walks; sign up for a gardening class; read a new gardening book.

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