January Garden Chores: Looking Ahead

Planning: Because the Bomb Cyclone Has Frozen Our Brains

January is a laid back month for garden chores, but this weekend's bomb cyclone put most of us in serious hibernation. With no real warm-up is sight, it's best if we include a bit of planning on this month's chore list. Who knows when we'll come out of this hibernation fog?

(Dates to Remember)

Pencil in a February weekend for pruning deciduous trees and shrubs, including your fruit trees, berry bushes, and brambles. Here's the how-to on pruning. Flip the calendar over to March and jot down a day for fertilizing all the trees, shrubs and perennial beds, and sowing grass seed. Here's your how-to on lawn care.  Make a note to order your mulch in February or March. It's easier to spread when the perennials are still dormant. If you're going to start a vegetable garden, here's the pdf on when to plant what, which helps with prepping while sitting by the fire. This way, if warm weather ever reappears, a few big items are at least scheduled, and the hibernating, procrastinating gardener will be ahead. 

Now, onto January's chores. 

Starting Seeds Indoors: Because We're Dying to Plant Anything

When can I start my seeds indoors? What about cool season crops? Is it too soon, too late to start those? So go the questions of anxious gardeners who managed the holidays and are now ready to grow something--anything. Starting seeds indoors is one way for gardeners to fight that winter itch to plant, even when snow covers the ground.  

(How-to on Starting Seeds)

You don't have to have a fancy set-up. Seedlings can be started in any containers with a good potting mix and the right amount of light. 

If you're starting transplants indoors, start 6-8 weeks before the plant date for outdoors, and follow these few tips.

  1. A window sill isn't enough light for seedlings. They'll become leggy and won't thrive. Instead, try 12 hours of light from a grow light that provides the necessary brightness.
  2. Use a potting mix that drains well, and keep it moist but not wet. If the soil stays too wet, there's potential for a fungal disease called damping off, which kills young transplants. Good air circulation and watering the seedlings from below, not above, will help. 
  3. Peat Pots are good for starting seeds since they can be planted directly into the soil when the time comes, but any container is okay. If reusing planting trays, be sure to sterilize first. If using pots that had summer annuals in them, be sure to use a fresh potting mix.
  4. Most homes are warm enough for seeds to germinate, but a heat mat is especially helpful. Heat mats go directly under the plant tray until germination starts. Also, remove the dome over the seedlings after germination.
  5.  If you don't have room indoors to start seeds, we sell transplants (both organic and non-organic), so you can still get a jump start on your veggies. The frost date for Western North Carolina 2018 is April 10 with a ten-day standard deviation rate (meaning be prepared to cover your seedlings if a late spring frost shows up). Check here for outside planting dates. 
  6. If you have left-over seeds from too many years to count, consider doing a viability test on those, remembering that you're testing germination rates, not vigor. The rule of thumb is that most seeds will last a couple of years, more or less. If you can't see the date on the package, it's probably time to toss them. If you're saving this year's seed, put seed packets in a Ziploc bag, zipped up tight, and store in the freezer. 

You only need one packet of cherry tomato seeds. The harvest is plentiful.

To test for viability: Dampen a couple of paper towels and place ten seeds from one left-over packet in-between the layers, and roll up. Place the damp paper towels in a plastic bag to keep moist, but not airtight, and leave in a warm place for a few days. If three germinated, that's a 30% germination rate. If seven germinated, then you've got 70% germination rate. Obviously, you want a higher rate. The lower the rate, the more thickly you'll need to sow, or consider a new packet of seeds. 

The good news? We have seeds galore and everything you need to start your seedlings. The temptation is to buy more than you have space for or will eat. Instead: Choose the veggies you love and purchase enough for succession planting, and then experiment with a few new vegetables for fun. Oh, and don't forget the flowers.

Houseplants: Because They're Our Winter Love

Succluents are fun to grow indoors, but you will need a bright window, and water monthly instead of weekly.

Turn all that garden nurturing-love you're missing toward your houseplants. Now is their time for a little TLC. Double check for spider mites, mealybugs and scale insects. If you catch problems early, it's easy enough to take care of--a shower, insecticidal soap or horticulture oil works. So does alcohol with a q-tip. But hold off on the fertilizer. Wait until early March, a bit closer to spring, to begin feeding your indoor plants. 

Stop by the store for a splurge on a few additions to the houseplants. Before you go, check out these tips on designing with houseplants, and read about the top five plants for cleaning up indoor toxins. For those of you with four-legged housemates, here's the pet poison hotline with information on which plants are harmful to your pets.

Design and Review: Because Now is the Time Or it Won't Happen

January is the month to review and dream a little. What worked last year, and what didn't What area of your yard needs some serious attention? Do you have a drainage issue? Should irrigation be considered, or hardscaping (the year you get that patio)? We have a landscape department that can help you with all of that. Do you have the onesie look happening and, this is the year to unify the garden with sweeps and masses (masses don't have to be large scale, 3 of something counts)? Again, we have services for all your garden needs, everything from helping you do-it-yourself to doing it for you. 

Start a wish list of plants. Go for walks and check out the neighborhood. See something you like? Take a picture and bring it to the store in spring. The staff loves to play name that plant! And chances are, we will have it. Contact us to find out how we can help. 

Education: Because Gardeners Love to Learn

Winter is time to glean some gardening knowledge. We're here to help. We begin hosting our yearly seminars in February, and these will continue throughout the season. They'll be advertised on our website and through our weekly emails. You can register online.  

Now, back to the fireplace with a good garden book. (Highly recommend: My Summer In A Garden, by Charles Dudley Warner, or Onward and Upward by Katherine White.) 

Written by Cinthia Milner garden coach and blog writer.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.