University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Lisa Halvorsen, Extension Associate Professor
University of Vermont

If you were asked to pick one color to describe the month of January, chances are you'd say "white" or perhaps "blue" if the post-holiday period is making you feel a bit down. But for many seasoned gardeners, "green" is the color that first comes to mind.

Why? Because January is the month gardeners start thinking about the new growing season. It's also a time to tend to houseplants, grow herbs on the windowsill, and green up the home with a new plant or two.

Although you may have received a few seed catalogs mixed in with your holiday cards, most nurseries and seed companies target January as the month for their catalogs to arrive in mailboxes. For some people, these are junk mail, but for gardeners, seed catalogs provide many hours of reading and dreaming, and eventually deciding what seeds and plants to order.

Although most companies have sufficient quantities of seed to fill orders, it's wise to get your order in early to ensure that you will get the seeds you want. Many places also offer "early bird discounts" or free seeds to encourage gardeners not to wait until the last minute to order. If you plan to grow your own plants, remember that some like petunias and snapdragons should be started in late February, another incentive to ordering early.

January is a good time to do some container gardening. Although in recent years that term has come to mean planting tomatoes and other vegetables in containers on outdoor decks and patios--especially when garden space is limited--it also can mean finding creative ways to grow indoor plants.

Instead of buying terra cotta pots, go on a treasure hunt in your attic, basement, or a local flea market for unusual and interesting containers. For example, you can place a small pot of ivy in a vintage ankle-high boot. Or fill a small suitcase with a variety of potted plants, placing the taller ones in back.

Other possibilities include decorative food tins such as cookie or olive oil containers (be sure to rinse well), old buckets, small kitchen appliances, or even a toy dump truck. Use your imagination!

If using metal containers, choose plants that don't require direct sunlight as the sun will heat up the container and "cook" the roots. Drainage also can be a problem. For best results, you should make a small hole at the bottom of the container to allow water to run out. If that's not feasible, place a shallow layer of pebbles on the bottom of the container, than plant in small pots and place these in the container.

Dry heat, varying amounts of light, and too much attention all contribute to houseplant troubles in winter. To correct these problems, place a pot of water on a radiator to raise the humidity level; water only when soil is dry to the touch; and move plants to well-lit locations.

Plants with brown leaf tips or "burned" leaf edges suffer from excessive fertilization, dryness, or house heat. Poor light, chilling, too much water, or not enough drainage can cause yellowing or drooping leaves, as will root decay from soil-borne diseases or insect pests.

Although some plants do okay when slightly pot-bound (you will have to water more often), most do not and will require repotting. Use a soil-less mix of vermiculite and perlite, and choose a pot the next size bigger for replanting.

Other activities for January: "de-ice" sidewalks and driveways with kitty litter; grow sprouts for salad; build a bird or bat house to put up this spring.

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