University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist and
Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Horticulturist
Removing snow properly to avoid plant damage, watching for fungus gnats on indoor plants, and checking stored root crops are some of the gardening activities for this month.

When you are clearing your driveway with a snow blower this winter, direct the snow away from plants. Otherwise, the blowing ice crystals may damage the tender bark of young trees and shrubs. This isn't as much of a concern for plants wrapped with burlap.

When deicing walks, use one of the granular products with a “chloride” other than sodium—these are safer on plants.  They may cost a bit more, but you can often use less.  Calcium chloride works best in the coldest areas (down to about 5 degrees F).  If below this temperature, don’t use any chemical product but rather sand for traction.  Liquid products don’t track into buildings as granular ones often do.  Apply any material before ice and snow, if possible, for best results.

Potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, and other root crops that you have stored in your basement or root cellar should be checked regularly for signs of decay. Any vegetables that show any rotting should be removed and any good parts eaten (if possible) immediately so they don't spread the disease to other vegetables.

If you’ve stored tender summer bulbs, check them too periodically.  Gladiolus corms are usually pretty easy to store as long as they don’t freeze.  Dahlia tubers, on the other hand, can die if they get too dry or stay too wet.  If they are stored in a medium such as sawdust, compost, or similar, and it feels damp and tubers are getting mushy, replace them at once into a drier mix and cut off rotten portions.  If they are starting to shrivel, add a bit (not too much) moisture to the storage medium.

Check the calendar to see if your forced bulbs have received their recommended amount of cold treatment (12 to 16 weeks). If so, move them into a 50-degree (F) spot out of direct sun until the flower shoots are about 2 inches tall, then move the pots to a sunny 68 degree location. The warmer the temperature, the shorter the flowering stems will be and the faster the bulbs will flower and fade.

If you've noticed tiny black flies that look like fruit flies around your indoor plants, they are probably fungus gnats. Though annoying when they flit about, the 1/8-inch-long adult insects are harmless. Their tiny, worm-like larvae feed on organic matter in moist soil, which can include plant roots. To control them, allow the soil to dry out between watering, use sticky traps, or drench soil with a biological control available at stores and labeled for this insect.

When you're finished with holiday evergreen boughs, use them to mulch tender perennials and shrubs. They make a lightweight but insulating layer that helps protect plants from alternating temperatures like our typical January thaw followed by a deep freeze.

Other gardening ideas for this month include looking through print and online seed and plant catalogs, visiting a botanic garden online, keeping your birds fed and water in heated birdbaths changed every few days, and admiring your winter landscape with snowshoes.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; 

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