A crabapple tree in the winter landscape
Trees, such as this crabapple with its lingering clusters of dark red fruit, can help break up the dull pattern of color in the winter landscape.

GARDENER’S CHECKLIST: Week of January 20, 2022

The holidays are over and the winter doldrums have set in. What's a gardener to do to lift his spirits in these dark days?

* Scan your home landscape. If the only colors you see now are gray and brown…and, of course, white, after this week’s snowstorm…plan to jazz up the landscape a bit this spring by planting a few trees and shrubs that have colorful fruit or bark. Of course, the easiest and most dominant color to add is green, in the form of evergreen shrubs.

* Plan to incorporate some native plants into the landscape this year.  I have nothing against non-invasive, exotic plant species but there are many native woody and herbaceous plants whose ornamental qualities are too often over-looked.  Growing these plants in our gardens not only adds to the beauty of the gardens but also increases awareness and appreciation of the local natural environment. In addition, native plants provide food for pollinators.

* Add soybean to your seed shopping list. Soybeans can be grown for dried beans or the pods can be harvested while the beans are still green.  The latter are called edamame.  Some soybean seed packets are labeled as edamame.  Soybean is an easy crop to grow and the beans are very high in protein.  After harvesting the edamame or green pods, boil them for about three minutes in salted water, and then pop the beans from the pods.  Though great when eaten fresh, the boiled beans may also be frozen.

Soybeans being harvested in the garden
Add soybeans to your seed list. The beans may be harvested as dry beans in late summer or earlier in the year in their green pod stage and eaten as fresh beans.

* Don’t be a victim of impulse buying.  Catalogs are full of impressive looking gardening gadgets that promise great results with little effort.  In most cases, you can accomplish the same ends a lot less expensively using conventional methods and equipment.   Think it through carefully before falling for gadgets.

* Remember that soil in a porous clay pot dries out much faster than soil in plastic or ceramic pots.  So, give houseplants in clay pots the finger, that is, poke your finger into the soil every few days. If it feels dry, apply water.

Testing for moisture in a clay pot.
Remember that soil in a porous clay pot dries out much faster than soil in plastic or ceramic pots.  So, give houseplants in clay pots the finger, that is, poke your finger into the soil every few days. If it feels dry, apply water.

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Most of the holiday decorations which adorned many homes over the past 6 or7 weeks have now been dismantled and put away until next December. To me, this undoing signals not only the end of the Christmas season, but also commencement of the winter doldrums.  My task now, as it is every year at this time, is to combat the blues by immersing myself in some self-consuming activity, other than work, that is.  This year it will be winter botany.

The key to doing winter botany is to use a winter plant identification key. With no leaves or flowers on deciduous trees and shrubs, a winter plant key relies on the unique features of twigs, buds, bark, leaf scars, and fruit in making identifications. Winter plant keys can be found at many book stores. A good choice is Winter Botany Field Guide and Key for Deciduous Plants of the Northeastern and Northcentral United States and Southeastern and Southcentral Canada (40 to 50 degree parallels) by William Kuriger Ph.D. Another choice is Winter Botany: An Identification Guide to Native Trees and Shrubs by William Trealese. Identifying plants in winter is fun and forces one to see the varying structure of different species of woody plants. Furthermore, winter botany is a great way to while away the hours while waiting for spring.