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Take the time on cold, January days to attend to your houseplants and overwintering annuals or bulbs. Or curl up cozily and make plans for your summer garden. I’ve compiled a list of good activities for January and early February. Scan down and make time to do any of the following that apply:

Start seeds

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  • Review seed catalogs or go online to research plants. Consider edible varieties that are drought-tolerant or disease-resistant.
  • If you have seed left over from last year, test the germination rate before you purchase more. Select 10-12 seeds of each variety and fold into dampened paper towels, enclose in a marked plastic bag, and set in a bright warm spot to encourage sprouting. Check the seeds after about 5 days and frequently until you see no further sprouting. If fewer than 8 seeds germinate, it’s time to buy more!
  • When buying any seeds, look for disease-resistant varieties to help keep diseases out of your garden.
  • Plant lettuce in flats this month and harvest before it’s time to start some of the later seedlings. Artificial light may be required, but the air should not be too hot.
  • Start some annual flowers this month. Good picks include marigolds, sweet peas, stattice, impatiens, petunias, and snapdragons.
  • Choose some perennials to start now from seed. Delphinium, Shasta daisy, carnation, digitalis, and armeria are good choices.
  • Start geranium, begonia, vinca, and viola seeds now for spring and summer bloom. Begonia and vinca seeds are among the hardest to germinate, so don’t be discouraged if your success rate is low or irregular.
  • Start purchasing vegetable seeds. Do not wait until late in the winter, as varieties may sell out early.
  • Remember to wash and sterilize seed-starting containers before planting seeds. Use 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.
  • If you want to give your vegetables an early start, use season-extending devices such as cold frames or hot beds.

Houseplants

  • Use this month to check the size of your houseplants: divide and re-pot any pot-bound plants. Prune judiciously to create a compact, attractive specimen.
  • Closely inspect houseplants. Remove aphids from houseplants with a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water and add a drop of dishwashing detergent. Apply this to troubled plants with a soft brush.
  • Webbing and spotted leaves can indicate spidermites on plants. Hold a piece of white paper under leaves and gently tap the stem. If black dots land on paper and start to move around, you have spider mites. Spray with insecticidal soap according to directions and increase humidity around plants.
  • Group houseplants to increase humidity. Fill a tray with pebbles and water then place houseplants on top. This will provide humidity around the pots as the water evaporates.
  • Houseplants like sunny windows on a winter’s day but you’ll want to provide extra protection while it’s so cold. Place cardboard between the plants and the glass overnight and be sure the plants don’t touch the windowpanes.
  • Fertilize your houseplants with a water-soluble fertilizer and remember to water them. Water when the surface is dry to the touch. Overwatering can lead to plant diseases.

Summer Bulbs and Vegetables

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  • Check any bulbs and tubers (Dahlia, Gladiolus, Elephant ear, etc.) that you may have stored to determine if moisture is okay.  Repack summer bulbs that seem too damp, discarding any moldy ones. If bulbs seem too dry, try moving them to another location.
  • Check stored potatoes and onions. Confirm that no soft tubers are spoiling others. Any soft vegetable should be removed and thrown away to prevent disease.

Spend time dreaming

  • If you don’t have one, start a garden record book now, allowing space to record the dates of first and last frosts, seed-planting dates, transplanting, time of bloom, first fruit, fertilizing, problems with pests, and what worked and didn’t work. Over a period of years, this will be an invaluable record.
  • Plan your garden and make a diagram drawn to scale before placing your spring order. By finalizing your garden plans on paper, you’ll have a record for next January and you can make changes more easily.

Do now what you’ll appreciate later

  • Organize, clean, oil, and sharpen garden tools.
  • A splash of bright paint on tool handles will make them easier to spot out in the yard.
  • Get your lawn mower blades sharpened and the motor tuned up.

Step outdoors

  • Remember to supply fresh water for the birds.
  • Nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals, and juncos will enjoy any bread scraps you may have.
  • Gently shake or brush off snow-weighted branches that have no support. Heavy snow cover protects evergreen foliage from windburn, but too much weight will break branches. Knock off snow from below with a broom so you don’t give yourself a shower.
  • Prune fruit trees now. The trimmings can be gathered up into bundles to be used for kindling after they’ve dried.
  • Avoid walking over the same areas of your frozen lawn, or you may find bald spots in the spring.
  • Keep your bird feeders clean! Every month, wash with soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
  • Trim any hedges that have been damaged from snow.

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