The gardener's January calendar - 2016

We had a later than normal start to cold winter temperatures in the Northeast, which meant more time to clean up the garden. Here are some tasks to try to do this month:

Help the Birds: Keep feeders filled. I use black oil sunflower and safflower 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.

My attempt to wrap a hydrangea - on a very windy day.
Help Hydrangeas: Consistent, super low temperatures kills hydrangea blossoms on old wood, as Chris Valley explained in a story I wrote previously for Frau Zinnie. 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. Several of my hydrangeas fall into this category. Valley suggested wrapping large hydrangeas by taking a string, tying it to a sturdy branch and walking around the plant to tie it up. Then 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.

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. If it's too cold to chop up a Christmas tree, consider leaving it standing in your garden. It will provide protection for songbirds.

Pansy and daylily seedlings.

Get Ready for Seed Season: 

    • If you use grow lights, clean your equipment. In the past, I used a diluted bleach solution to wipe down my trays, but this year I plan on cleaning everything with soap and water first, and then using vinegar to disinfect. Make sure grow light 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). I'm hoping to stretch one more growing season out of these bulbs before replacing them next year. (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 (or the vinegar solution I mentioned above) 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 for seed viability (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. If you decide to try it, make sure you have a backup - just in case!
    • 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.

    Remember - spring is coming. To view the countdown to spring daily with my photos, visit my Instagram or Facebook account.

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


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