Tasks for Gardeners in the Dead of Winter - 27 East

Residence

Residence / 2224256

Tasks for Gardeners in the Dead of Winter

Number of images 3 Photos
A Cyclamen coum flower atop its 2-inch stalk. This naturalizing bulb will flower much of the year and begins its show in the winter, even under the snow.  With no snow cover it’s a winter reminder that spring is not far away.
ANDREW MESSINGER

A Cyclamen coum flower atop its 2-inch stalk. This naturalizing bulb will flower much of the year and begins its show in the winter, even under the snow. With no snow cover it’s a winter reminder that spring is not far away. ANDREW MESSINGER

Helleborus foetidus

Helleborus foetidus "Red Silver" is great for its winter-retained tropical-looking foliage. A somewhat challenging and reportedly short-lived Hellebore, it’s undaunted by cold and continues to push up new foliage and potential buds well into the colder months. Great for year-round appeal. ANDREW MESSINGER

Leaves from a Columbine sprout that germinated in the fall before mulch was applied.  They need light to germinate.  The young foliage is fully hardy and with a warm winter this plant may flower in mid-Spring and certainly next year.  More seeds will germinate in the spring as the mulch is removed but those seedlings will take another year to flower.  ANDREW MESSINGER

Leaves from a Columbine sprout that germinated in the fall before mulch was applied. They need light to germinate. The young foliage is fully hardy and with a warm winter this plant may flower in mid-Spring and certainly next year. More seeds will germinate in the spring as the mulch is removed but those seedlings will take another year to flower. ANDREW MESSINGER

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

What do gardeners do in the dead of winter when we really shouldn’t be working outside? Well, some of us continue to work outside — still cleaning up and doing some early winter pruning — and some of us take stock and plan to right all of our garden wrongs and errors from last year. Others will read some gardening books or catch up on Horticulture, Fine Gardening and maybe Garden Gate.

Some of us will start placing orders for seed and plants. Remember last year when you wanted that particular plant so badly only to find it on the website with the words “Sold Out”? In early January I’m already seeing those dreaded words on several online catalog pages so don’t wait, order early — like yesterday.

We take care and pay attention to our houseplants. And of course, we peruse the catalogs that arrive in the mail or our inboxes. Some just hibernate. Yes, it can be a bit hard to be enthusiastic about your gardens when it’s cold and dank outside, but it is time to get your seed-starting materials ready. Pots, flats, soils, labels and of course seeds. It’s only weeks until some of us will start our early crops indoors, and there’s nothing more counterintuitive than being a procrastinating gardener forever repeating the words “I wish I’d (fill in the blank) back in January.”

Still looking for a prod or motivation? What went wrong in your garden last year? What veggies did you forget to plant, and which ones would you like to try that you’ve never planted before? What sold out last year that you desperately wanted? What do you want to do that’s different or even a bit crazy in your garden or landscape? What tools did you lose or find out that you needed? What winter pruning needs to be done? How is climate change affecting your garden?

On the milder days you should make a habit of walking your property and making written and mental observations. If the ground and lawn are firm and you’re not sinking 6 inches into the soil, take a look at your trees, your shrubs and your gardens. You’ll probably notice that any columbines that dropped seeds last summer have resulted in dozens of seedlings. You can thin them now or wait until it’s warmer when the seedlings will tolerate transplanting.

You should also notice that many succulents like sedums are sending up new shoots. Tiny at first but small enough to be frost and freeze tolerant as they take advantage of each sunny day to swell and plump just a bit more. Cyclamen coum are still flowering or just beginning to flower and will do so even when covered by snow giving signs of life and color weeks before the snowdrops and crocus even consider sending up buds.

You should also be seeing the pink to red tips of peonies just at the soil surface indicating where new growth will emerge for the summer’s flowers. Careful not to step on them, and tread lightly as inadvertently breaking these tips will cut back on the number of stems that emerge.

Then there are the Hellebores, also known as the Christmas roses and Lenten roses. I’ve never ever seen one bloom in January or February, but I do have one Helleborus that really, really wants to bloom, and even if it doesn’t it’s got pretty spectacular, tropical-looking foliage that’s in great shape. The plant is Helleborus foetidus “Red Silver” from Plant Delights. This hellebore looks and grows like none you’ve ever seen, and so far it’s been pretty remarkable. The palmate foliage reaches nearly horizontally from the crown on red stems that lead to about 10 thin, serrated or toothed leaflets per stem. Growing to about 30 inches tall, the green flowers are accented by a red ring along the outer edge of the flower with the flowers offering a great contrast against the pewter-colored foliage below.

I was able to get a plant in 2022, and it should flower the first time this year. It’s actually been sending up bud stalks for weeks, and I can’t wait for it to bloom, not just for the flowers but the seeds that may follow. There’s only some rudimentary information on the plant, which is mostly grown from seed, and the plant may be short lived. Nonetheless, pretty spectacular in the otherwise dormant garden. This one may also be more evergreen than other purported evergreen Helleborus that seem to brown and turn to mush as winter progresses. So far no sign of brown or mush on this one.

The plant is noted as needing good drainage. My drainage isn’t great. It’s also noted as being a pollinator for honeybees, which could make it an early source of pollen for these bees, and that’s always a plus. Ah, it’s also said to be salt tolerant so it could conceivably be a plant for seaside or bay gardens as well.

And on one of the dreary, drizzly, foggy late December days I open my mailbox and my long-awaited Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog arrived. This is such a gem, and there are so, so many reasons why you should not just have a copy but actually read it. This catalog has so much in it that I use it constantly as a reference tool, and if you are new to vegetable gardening this catalog is an educational tool like none other.

With vegetable seeds from artichokes to watermelons and replete with detailed information on how to grow each variety and type, the catalog opens up a whole world of veggies that simply amazes. The photographs are helpful in terms of seeing sizes and colors, and this is obvious in the carrot and eggplant sections. There’s one full page that’s just pictures of nearly 50 varieties of baby leaf greens that I wish I had as a wall poster.

Where else can you find four pages of carrot varieties in colors, sizes and maturities that make me wish I could grow them? But my soil is not carrot friendly. Yours, on the other hand, probably is, and with over 24 varieties from early to late and short to long in about eight different colors as well as easy to handle pelletized seed, how can you not plant a few varieties?

Special things to look at from Johnny’s in 2024 include: Glow Stix Moonrise carrot mix as well as Purple Star and Carnival carrots; Bingo Belgian endive; Nemesis wild arugula; Ember mizun; Reyes organic baby lettuce; Marilisa baby leaf lettuce, which is blond as opposed to green; Chalupa romaine type lettuce; Rangitoto spinach; Black Berry organic seed potato bred for the chip market; Black Bear pumpkin, which is almost black; and Honey Bun acorn squash. They have also introduced mushroom kits that look like fun, Blue Oyster Spray, Lion’s Mane Spray and Pink Oyster Spray. In tomatoes, check out Harvest Moon, Strawberry Fields (had the best taste of all new tomato introductions), Marmalade Skies and a new determinate grape tomato (which makes it unusual) called Candy Bell. And for those looking for a new basil, there’s Noga Prospera, which is said to be highly mildew resistant, while Mia Prospera and Lihi Prospera are noted as well suited to container growing.

But wait, there’s more. Johnny’s also has instructional videos online and other resources that you’ll certainly find helpful. They do tend to cater to market and commercial growers but they have by no means forgotten home gardeners. Johnnyseeds.com .

Now, still think there’s nothing to do in the garden in January? Don’t forget your houseplants and of course, keep growing.

AutorMore Posts from Andrew Messinger

The April Ramble

April got off to a typical start. For most of the first two weeks of ... 18 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Plant Radishes Now

As you may have discovered from last week’s column there is more to a radish ... 11 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

A Brief History of Radishes

The madness will begin. Adventurous souls have had just one day too many of cabinus ... 4 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

What To Know and Consider Before Buying Fertilizer

If you are trying to figure out which fertilizer you should buy and how much ... 27 Mar 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Feed Me? Don’t Kill Plants With Love (i.e. Fertilizer)

Yes, you can kill a plant with love. This is especially true if you believe ... 21 Mar 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Introduce Kids to Gardening

This is my annual appeal to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, families, teachers and mentors ... 15 Mar 2024 by Andrew Messinger

What To Know About Choosing Fruit Trees To Grow

There is nothing quite as frustrating as working on a horticultural project for years only ... 7 Mar 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Prepare for Tomato Growing Season

This week I need to finish up on the Tomato series. Some hints of garden ... 29 Feb 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Know the Different Types of Tomatoes and Their Growth Habits and Uses

Tomatoes are classified by their intended use and by their growth habit. And while your ... 22 Feb 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Tasty Tomatoes Are Elusive

You may have noticed that for years I’ve been on a rant about tomatoes. All ... 15 Feb 2024 by Andrew Messinger