The Gardener's January Calendar

Keep feeders filled to help birds through the coldest months.
Brr! As I write this, the entire country is being gripped in what everyone is dubbing, "The Big Chill." (It even has a hashtag on twitter, #bigchill.) Which brings me to the first item of the month for January:

My attempt to wrap a hydrangea - on a very windy day.
Help Hydrangeas: Temperatures like those we are experiencing now is what kills hydrangea blossoms on old wood, as Chris Valley explained in a story I wrote last summer. While varieties like Endless Summer can be affected since flowers bloom on both old and new wood, it is mostly the varieties were flowers only bloom on old wood that are affected the most. Last year, I found out several of my hydrangeas fell into this category because they didn't bloom at all after the frigid winter we had. Valley suggested wrapping large hydrangeas by taking a string, tying it to a sturdy branch and walking around the plant to tie it up. Cover with burlap and leave the top open. Do not fill it with leaves. "Otherwise you will make a condo for mice," he said. If you can stand the cold at this point where you are, give it a shot. I headed out earlier this week to try to save two of mine, but after running out of burlap and twine, I'm not sure how much coverage I provided (see photo).

Help Perennials: To prevent frost from heaving plants out of the ground, recycle Christmas trees so the branches protect your plants. Read more here. If you see plants coming out of the ground, push them back in.

Get Ready for Seed Season: 

- If you use grow lights, clean your equipment. I use a diluted bleach solution to wipe down my trays. Make sure the bulbs work. I use the three-tier grow light stand from Gardener's Supply which I purchased in December 2010. It's a big investment (and takes up a good amount of space in my kitchen) but I save lots of money on plants later in the season by growing what I want from seed. The fixture uses T-5 bulbs that provide full spectrum light. They last about five seasons before they start to dim (about 10,000 hours of use). This is my last season I plan to use my bulbs since I use them exclusively for seed-starting. (Older bulbs can be used for houseplants if you feel bad about chucking them.)

- If you reuse plastic seed starting cells (like I do), begin cleaning them now with a diluted bleach solution to kill anything that might compromise your plants for this year.

- Chuck older seeds that have reached their storage limit. I HATE this part. I feel like I've wasted money when I find seeds that I haven't planted. Vegetables all have a different lifetime of seeds (a good source is here to help you decide what to keep). If you try to grow older seeds, they may sprout, but won't grow as strong as newer seeds will. Of course, you can try to, but have a backup ready in case they don't work.

Pansy and daylily seedlings.
- Figure out what your growing calendar looks like. For me, seed starting begins later this month with pansy seeds. This is a good way for me to beat the winter blues and have my own pansies for early spring. Figure out what your estimated last frost date is. (This website will help.) Then count backward from that week. This is your growing season. So when a packet of seeds says to start them inside eight weeks before the last average frost, for example, count back eight weeks from your last frost date.

Help the Birds: Keep feeders filled. I use black oil sunflower seeds in an open platform feeder. I also use a suet feeder that attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and wrens. It's also very important to keep unfrozen water available to birds when other and natural sources of water are frozen. Here's a review on the heated birdbath I use.

Remember - spring is coming. Onward!

I live in Central Connecticut and garden in Zone 6b.

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