University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Growing moth orchids, taking an inventory of seed starting supplies, and starting greens are some of the gardening activities for this month.

When in flower, moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) need consistent temperatures of above 60 degrees at night and above 70 during the day. In New England, a south window in winter is not too much light, whereas it would be too much in summer. Fertilize with a dilute liquid orchid fertilizer (high phosphorous, low nitrogen). Let the soil dry out somewhat between waterings but not get completely dry. The flowers can be damaged by gas from a stove, cigarette smoke, and other chemicals in the air. If buds drop before opening, raise the humidity with a room humidifier or by grouping plants together on top of pebbles in a tray with water up to the bottom of the pebbles.
Take inventory of trays, pots, and six-packs from past years and discard any that are cracked. Reduce risk of disease by washing them, then soaking for 20 minutes in a solution of 10 percent bleach and water (9 parts water to one part bleach), then air dry.
If you have a set of grow lights, you can grow mesclun or other quick-growing greens to add to early-spring salads. Fill a tray with moistened seed-starting mix and sow seeds thickly, then cover with one-quarter inch of soil and mist the surface. Don't let the surface dry out. As soon as the first seeds germinate, keep the lights about 4 inches above the tray.
You can start your own sprouts for salads easily, buying seeds for this at garden stores or online from catalogs.  You can buy special sprouting trays that stack, or simply sprout in a jar covered with cheesecloth.  Moisten seeds overnight, then drain and place in containers.  Rinse and drain daily.  Many seeds can be used such as beans and peas, mustard and other similar greens, grains such as wheat, grasses such as oats, lettuce, and even onions and their relatives.
Whether you use warm-white and cool-white fluorescent tubes or special plant lights to start seedlings, they lose light intensity after a year or two and ideally should be replaced. If you feel it's hard to justify buying new lights that often, consider all the time and effort you're spending on starting plants. Without adequate light, your seedlings will grow spindly and will be less productive in the garden, and you won't get the most out of your efforts.  Look for darkening at the ends of the tubes, a sign they are losing intensity.
Potted forced bulbs may need watering so check on them soon. They should be removed from their cold treatment when they are well rooted and shoots have begun to grow.  This is usually 10 to 12 weeks from the time they were potted and placed in the cold.
When tree and shrub branches bend under the weight of a new snowfall, use a broom to gently brush off the snow. Don't try to remove ice or you might break the branch. It's possible to save a branch that partially splits from the main trunk if you tie it in place and use long screws (coming from each direction, if necessary) to secure it. If done right away, the tree may callous over the wound and heal itself next season.

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