There’s not much going on in the January garden — at least not much that you can see under that blanket of snow. But the January gardener might be very busy indeed. Read on if you dare: The danger is that your cabin fever will break, your green thumb will heat up, your winter blahs will start to thaw and you will be inspired to “get-going-already” with some winter projects that will help you be oh-so-ready for spring, which is, after all, just around the corner.
Every gardener has something growing in the back of their mind: the coming year’s garden. Though we rest from our garden labors, we anticipate the 2013 growing season and plan for its success.
Here are some activities you can do to keep yourself busy:
• Grow some flowers — bulbs such as paperwhites and amaryllis are easy to force in winter because they don’t require chilling time. Few things are as cheerful as the large, trumpet-shaped flowers of the amaryllis, which come in a variety of shades, some with shorter stems as well as the taller ones. These beautiful flowers will inspire you as you look forward to the coming year’s garden.
• Mist stored tubers such as dahlias, begonias and gladiolas. Discard any tubers or corms that are shriveled or moldy or that feel soft.
• Give your houseplants some TLC: Spritz them with water and use a soft cloth to wipe off the leaves. Be wary of commercial leaf shines because they will clog leaf pores.
• Perennials or slow-growing plants such as onions should be started now. A sunny windowsill inside a home can often accomplish the same effect as a greenhouse or cold frame. A heating pad set on low can give seedlings enough warmth to thrive. Seedlings will need about 14 hours of light a day. Many gardeners compensate for lack of sunlight with artificial light such as fluorescent lamps placed a few inches over the seedlings.
• As we have mentioned more than once in recent columns, if you don’t have a journal, start one this year — you’ll find it an invaluable tool. Purchase a notebook that can serve as a garden journal and begin making notes.
In it, you can make your garden plan for the coming year, rotating crops to help preserve soil nutrients and to avoid potential disease problems. It can also become your “wish list.” Measure your garden spaces, then plot them on graph paper. You can draw each planting bed on a different page or you can draw out your whole yard on one sheet. The best plan might be to do both. This will allow you to make detailed planting diagrams for each bed as well as a whole yard overview. These drawings need not be fancy — just outline the shapes of your planting areas after measuring them. Mark and label permanent plantings such as trees and shrubs and long-lived perennials, then have several copies made to keep in your notebook. Each year as you plan changes to your landscaping and flower gardens, and crop rotation in your veggie garden, you will have a map of last year’s garden to help you remember what was planted where, and a new map to plan changes on.
Cut out clippings from magazines and Internet sources that contain ideas you might want to incorporate in your garden.
Write down the names of shrubs and when you planted them. Keep track of how many pounds of tomatoes you harvested from the dozen plants you grew last year. Write down homemade fertilizer recipes and composting tips.
• Educate yourself. Check out some books from the library to help you increase your gardening knowledge. There is also a lot of knowledge available on the Internet about gardening and related topics. Remember, however, that not everything you read online is accurate. Seek out respected sources and double check facts that seem odd or far-fetched.
Even experienced gardeners can benefit from continuing education as recommendations about things like soil science, plant breeding and best practices in the garden can change as research and development bring new understanding. For instance, preparing a garden bed by tilling repeatedly and breaking down soil to a fine consistency is not good for soil structure or the microbe activity in the soil. Less is more when it comes to tilling.
• WSU Extension Master Gardener Program is an organization of trained volunteers dedicated to horticulture and community service. Questions about gardening, landscaping or this Program can be directed to the Master Gardener Clinic at 509-574-1600 or visit us at the WSU Extension office, (new location) at 2403 S. 18th St., Suite 100 in Union Gap. New volunteers welcome.