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GARDENER’S CHECKLIST: Week of January 5, 2023

Ron Kujawski has some fresh advice about how to use that leftover Christmas greenery, how not to become a seed hoarder, and easy ways to tell if your houseplants are in need of rescue.

Editor’s Note: This article was previously published in 2021, and is re-printed here with updates from the author.

* Place branches cut from discarded Christmas trees over herbaceous perennials that were planted this past fall. Do this on a day when the ground is frozen. With inconsistent snow cover and relatively mild conditions this winter, soils are repeatedly freezing and thawing. These cycles can force plants out of the ground and expose their roots to killing temperatures. This can also happen to trees and shrubs that were planted in fall. Of course, one discarded Christmas tree is not likely to be enough. So, you may have to scout the neighborhood for other abandoned specimens.

* Trek to your local garden center or nursery to check out post-holiday sales. This is a good time to find bargains on many hard goods as well as houseplants and tender bulbs (e.g., amaryllis and paper white narcissus) for forcing.

That odor emanating from your basement may not be old sneakers. Check stored winter squash and pumpkins for evidence of decaying fruit.

* Don’t trust old vegetable and flower seed. Either buy new seed or test the old seed for viability and then decide whether to purchase fresh seed packaged for 2023. As mentioned in a previous column, a simple way to test viability is to place a sample of ten seeds from each old packet onto sheets of moistened paper towel. Put the sheets into a zip lock bag and place this in a warm spot. Check the seeds after one and then two weeks, calculating the percentage that have germinated. If the rate is less than 50%, toss the seeds and buy fresh. 

* Follow that odor emanating from the basement, or wherever it is that pumpkins and winter squash are stored. Unless housed in ideal conditions of 50-60 degrees F and 50-75% relative humidity, pumpkins and winter squash will not keep much longer than a few months. Under the best of conditions, they may keep up to four months. Cull any that are decaying.

* Look for tip burn on the leaves of your spider plant. Browning of leaf tips on this plant is a good indication that your plant-care practices need to be evaluated. It’s one of the first plants to respond to poor care. Tip burn can indicate insufficient watering, low humidity, or accumulation of salts in the potting soil due to excessive fertilizing. If the latter is the issue, repot the plant in fresh potting mix.

Brown tips on leaves of spider plant is a symptom of insufficient water, low humidity, or accumulation of salts due to over-fertilizing.

* Flip the calendar ahead to the summer months and block out some dates for visits to botanical gardens and arboreta. Such public and private gardens include plants that are hardy to this region. These plants are typically integrated into well designed landscapes that provide ideas and inspiration for home gardeners.

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Make a commitment to start some vegetable and flower plants from seed this year. Admittedly, it is time-consuming and requires special equipment in terms of sterile seed-starting media, seedling flats, heating cable and supplemental lighting. Clearly it is challenging, but that is part of the fun. Also, it allows you to grow varieties that you may not be able to find as seedlings or finished plants at retail nurseries and garden centers.

Seed catalogues
Pretty plant pictures in seed catalogs can draw you into buying more seeds than you need. Be wise, make a list of needs before placing orders.

One bit of advice I have for those who plan to start their own plants from seed is to compile a plant list before perusing seed catalogs. Otherwise, there is a tendency to base the list on pretty pictures and sometimes exaggerated descriptions of plants rather than real needs. Of course, there is nothing wrong with adding a few new items to the seed list each year, but practice some restraint. The huge mass of unopened seed packets that I’ve collected the past few years makes me eminently qualified to offer such a recommendation.

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