University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont, and
Charlie Nardozzi, Chairman of the Board of Directors
Vermont Botanical Garden

Whether you are growing houseplants indoors, feeding the birds, or planning next year's garden and ordering seeds, there is plenty of garden activity even in January!

Before placing your seed orders, do a germination test on stored seeds to see how viable they are. To do this, place 20 seeds between two sheets of moist paper towels and tuck into a loosely tied plastic bag. Place in a warm area, and check every few days. If germination is less than 80 percent, consider purchasing new seed of that crop.

Examine houseplants for signs of pests, focusing your attention on the new growth, the leaf axils (where the leaf meets the stem), and the undersides of the leaves. Look for fine webbing (mites), white cottony-looking spots (mealybugs), a flurry of tiny white insects (whiteflies), and a sticky substance on leaves (the honeydew secreted by scale and other insects). All of these can be controlled by washing foliage with warm, soapy water or with sprays of insecticidal soap.

Even a lukewarm shower as in a utility sink if plants are small, or the bathroom for larger plants, can help them by washing dust and some insects off.  You may wish to cover the soil surface with a plastic bag so the plants don't get overwatered.  Remember the golden rule on watering houseplants-if in doubt, don't water.

If you brought in your geranium plants (Pelargonium) this fall and are growing them indoors this winter, chances are they've gotten very leggy by now. The cloudy, short days of winter don't provide enough light for these plants to thrive. Cut back the geranium to about 1 foot tall. They should resprout and, with the longer days of late winter, grow bushier.

This is a good month to start catching up on all those gardening magazines you didn't have time for earlier during the growing season.  Catch up on garden books too, such as ones you may have acquired over the holidays.  Or visit your local bookstore or library during a cold wintry afternoon or evening.

While catching up on garden reading, don't forget the wonderful resource of the internet.  The search engines are quite powerful now, so just type in a plant, garden name, or topic, and you're sure to find some good sites fairly soon.  I like to visit gardens worldwide, virtually on the internet, during the winter.  A good site to learn about perennials is my own Perry's Perennial Pages (

Keep your garden muscles in shape this month.  Bundle up and take walks outdoors, with skies or snowshoes if needed.  Make sure birds have plenty of food, water such as from a heated birdbath, and even treats such as suet.

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles