January Landscape Activities
28 December 2004
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
One nice thing about a new year is the sense of renewal you can have. I guess that is why so many of us choose to this time to decide what we will change in our lives. When I look out into my landscape and recall the things that worked and the things that did not during the last growing season I am inspired to plan now for the coming spring. Here are some things to consider in the new year. I hope you can be inspired to try something new or fix something old in your landscape as the new year unfolds. I wish you a happy new year in your garden and out.
For easier lawn maintenance, eliminate the hard to mow spaces. Eliminate acute angles in beds and borders. Combine single trees or shrubs into a large planting connected with ground covers. Put bird baths in flower beds or surround them with ground covers.
Avoid heavy traffic on dormant lawns. Dry grass is easily broken and the crown of the plant may be severely damaged or killed.
Do-it-yourself landscaping projects are very popular these days and provide savings in more ways than most people realize. They enhance property value and can reduce the cost of heating and cooling bills. Doing it yourself saves the actual out-of-pocket expense of contracting and provides indirect savings on taxes. Finally, home landscaping is great preventative therapy and improves one's mental health.
Take time now to relax and read all of those horticultural magazines and garden books that were put aside during the busy holiday season. As you peruse seed catalogs, choose disease-resistant varieties. They not only make gardening easier, they reduce expenses and environmental pollution from pesticides. Do not wait until late in the winter to order seed. Many varieties sell out early.
Draw a map of your garden and make copies of it. Beds may stay in the same place year after year, but hopefully the crops rotate each year to keep ahead of the pests. To plan this year's garden, take a clean copy of the map and fill it in. Use the back of the plan to record notes. Keep each year's plan in a three-ring binder for easy cross-checking of varieties, rotations, etc.
If you are spreading the ashes from your wood burning stove in your garden, be aware that over time you are raising the pH of your soil. Have your soil pH tested before applying any more wood ashes. Use them only if the pH is under 7.0 based on a soil test. The safe rate of wood ash application to lawn or gardens is 15 to 20 lbs. per 1000 square feet per year (approximately a 5 gallon pail). Remember, a little wood ash is beneficial, but a lot is not. Also be sure charcoal chunks are removed before wood ashes are applied to lawns.
When starting seed, cover the flat with a clear plastic wrap to keep the seeds warm and moist. Professional growers use bottom heat to speed germination, but you can get the same effect by placing flats on top of the refrigerator. As soon as seedlings are up, place the flat under lights to keep the seedlings from getting spindly.
Light from a windowsill in January or February is often not strong enough to keep seedlings short and sturdy. Supplement natural lighting with a 4-foot fluorescent fixture with three cool- white and one warm-white light tubes about 6 to 10 inches over the flats. Fertilizer (one-quarter to one-half strength) can be applied once every two weeks.
One way to file seeds as they come in the mail is to use index card tabs to divide a cardboard file box into categories for each vegetable or flower. As new seeds arrive, place them alphabetically in the proper slot -- tomatoes, carrots, etc. Drop notes into the file to remind you what is on order to avoid duplication.
Make a sphagnum moss pole for vining plants. Use half-inch mesh hardware cloth, and cut a piece 8 to 10 inches wide (depending on the diameter you want for the pole) and as long as desired. Roll the mesh into a cylinder; fasten together with wire; and stuff with moist, long-fiber sphagnum moss. Place it in the soil and train the vine up the pole. To water the vine, moisten the sphagnum. This also helps anchor the plant to the pole.
Seeds stored under warm, moist conditions deteriorate rapidly. Unless you are sure your seeds were stored under cool, dry conditions, it is safer to buy new packets each season.
Fear of failure, more than any other reason, keeps non-gardeners from planting their first garden seed or seedling according to the National Garden Bureau. New gardeners need encouragement and praise from friends, never criticism of their first attempts.
Feed the birds regularly and see that they have water. Birds like suet, fruit, nuts, and bread crumbs as well as bird seed.
A fun, indoor project is building bird boxes for the upcoming nesting season. These can be elaborate or simple; consult your local Extension office or check the web for easy do-it-yourself plans. Make sure you stay away from pressure treated wood when building homes for your wild friends. Despite the lack of research on the newer wood preservatives, some scientists are concerned that copper may leach from them and harm the animals. It is probably better to err on the side of caution until we know more about it.
Save plastic mesh bags in which oranges usually come; they make ideal storage sacks for air drying gourds, bulbs, and herbs.
Take down all those Christmas greens before they lose the freshness that made them so attractive during the holidays and recycle your holiday decorations. Greenery used in ornaments can be used again in the garden. Wreaths and branches stripped from Christmas trees make excellent mulch for protecting newly planted ornamentals. Remove the material in the spring and compost it.
Plan to attend the garden and landscape meetings and clinics arranged by the Extension agents in your county or city. The latest and best gardening information will be presented. Call 872-4580 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for the latest schedule.
For more information about landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.