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

Sowing seeds wisely, thinning seedlings ruthlessly, and pruning early are some of the gardening activities for this month.

It's easy to get carried away starting seeds, but try to be realistic. It's wise to start a few extra plants, but do you really need -- or have room for -- 50 tomato plants in your garden? Remember, too, that tiny seedlings will need to be transplanted into larger containers, and you'll need to have a warm and well-lit spot for these until spring arrives.

Be ruthless when thinning indoor-grown seedlings. Once seeds have germinated, choose the strongest plant in each six-pack cell and snip off the others. It may feel cruel, but it's the best way to get the remaining plants off to a strong start. You can gently pry out the extra seedlings and repot them, but you may damage the roots on all the plants.

If you start seeds under grow lights or fluorescent shop lights indoors, check the tubes for signs of age. Tubes that have been used for two or three seasons probably have lost much of their intensity, even though they look fine. Dark rings on the ends of the tubes are a sign they need to be replaced.

If starting seeds indoors, toward the beginning of the month you may want to start onion, pansy, and impatiens seeds.  Donít sow tomatoes too early, or they will just become leggy.  Later in the month is a good time to sow tomato seeds, as well as broccoli, cabbage, and coleus.

Prune branches off flowering shrubs, such as forsythia and apple, and bring them indoors to force into early bloom.  Place warm water in a bathtub, then soak the branches overnight. There is no need to pound or mash the stem ends as is often believed.  Trim the branches to a reasonable size for your vase, and you should have flowers in a few weeks.

Now is the time of year to search swamps and wet areas for the first sign of spring -- the pussy willow and red-stem dogwood. Buds are swelling and branches coloring with the warmer weather. Take 2-foot cuttings from the bush, trying not to deform it by taking too many cuttings in one location. Bring them indoors and place them in water in a cool room.

Geraniums that you overwintered indoors are probably getting tall and leggy by now. Take four- to six-inch cuttings, strip off the bottom set of leaves, dip the cut ends in rooting hormone powder, and stick the cuttings in a pot filled with moistened potting soil. Keep the soil moist, and they should root in a few weeks.

If flowers have faded on your amaryllis, cut off the flower stalk, keep the plant watered, and fertilize.  If you are starting tuberous begonias indoors in pots, plant at the surface of the soil with the concave side up.  If you potted bulbs last fall for forcing, remove them now from the cold.

Sharpen pruners, hoes, shears, and shovels now if you didnít last fall.  There are various sharpening devices you can find online, or at complete garden stores, to make this job quick and easy.  Then prune fruit trees, berries, and grapes if you have these.  Now is also a good time to prune trees and summer-flowering shrubs.  If nothing else, prune off branches broken from winter weather.

Other activities for this month include taking mowers in for tune-ups before the spring rush; resisting from working the soil in your garden if too wet; buying Easter lilies if you celebrate this occasion; and visiting a maple sugarhouse.

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