University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

gmg logo   January News Articleline


Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Cleaning bird feeders, growing Swedish ivy, and brushing snow from shrubs are some of the gardening activities for this month.   

Birds deserve clean food surfaces as much as we do. Every few weeks bring the feeders inside and wash them with soap and water into which a little bleach has been added (1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Rinse thoroughly.  If you have a heated bird bath, keep it scrubbed and cleaned regularly as well.  I keep an old brush just for this purpose, whenever I refill the bath.

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, and not split further.

Peperomia are highly decorative houseplants that are easy to grow, members of the pepper family as you might guess from the name. Give them bright indirect light, donít overwater, and donít let them get much below 60 degrees (F) for best growth.  The blunt-leaved species is upright, and has rounded thick, waxy leaves on thick stems.  Emerald ripple has dark green, rippled leaf surfaces and makes a mounded habit.  Watermelon peperomia has silvery white stripes, similar to a watermelon rind.  There are variations you may find on each of these three main species.

If you received a poinsettia or cyclamen as a holiday gift, keep it blooming by providing proper care.  Poinsettias need good drainage, so if the pot is still wrapped in foil, make sure there is a hole in the bottom so water drains out.  Of course if itís on furniture, place a saucer underneath to protect the finish.  Keep poinsettias away from drafts, such as near doors or windows or hot woodstoves.  Keep soil moist, but donít overwater.  Keep in bright light.

The latter applies, also, to cyclamen which can last for weeks if kept cool (65 to 68 degrees F in day, less at night).  Too high temperatures, too little water or overwatering, or too low light may cause leaves to yellow and drop.

When deicing walks, use one of the granular products with a ďchlorideĒ other than sodium componentóthese are safer on plants.  They may cost a bit more, but you often can use less.  Calcium chloride works best in the coldest areas (down to about 5 degrees F).  If below this temperature, donít use any chemical product but rather sand for traction.  Liquid products donít track into buildings as granular ones often do.  Apply any material before ice and snow, if possible, for best results.

While snow makes a good protective cover for plants, if you use salt to melt ice on driveways or walks, be careful not to pile snow from these areas on your plants or where melting snow will drain onto them.  Otherwise, once snow melts in spring, flush soil thoroughly with water to help dilute or wash away any salt residue.     

Other gardening activities for this month include ordering seeds and plants from catalogs, reviewing garden notes from this past year while planning for this coming season, and signing up for a garden tour or spring garden symposium such as in April at Fort Ticonderoga (

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

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