I'm always adding new articles because I have found so much good stuff to share that you will surely find of great use to you and your family and friends. Much of what I share involves getting back to the basics and doing for ourselves. Simply click the above image to see the latest of the greatest finds.

I'm big into DIY projects and finding ways to improve things, saving time and money. Quite frankly, I'm tired of paying for overpriced junk and for other people's mistakes. If I'm going to pay for anyone's mistakes, they should be my own. If you agree, then click the above image for all sorts of ingenious ideas.

There's a plethora of stuff and information that I've found to share and I like to feature my favorites for quick and easy future reference -- for myself as well as all of you. Some I've already tried myself and will do again; some I am looking forward to trying. Just click the above image to see what I've added to my faves list.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Regional Gardening by Month: January

While we're all stuck in the dead of winter, many are looking forward to seeing some green again -- Mother Nature's green, that is, but the other kind would be good, too. =) Some might be thinking there's nothing any of us can do now to help our lawns and gardens grow, but you'd be wrong! There are, in fact, a number of things you should be doing, no matter which region you live in -- even if just to prepare for the upcoming growing season.

So, as I look out my office window at the irises, roses, purple salvia and crape myrtles, I started wondering what it is that each of us could be doing at this time of year to help move things along and thought I'd do a little research. While there might be less for those in colder climates to worry about, there are still a number of things you could be doing right now. Then there are warmer regions that have specific needs according to what grows in the area and when.

Of course, there are those things that everyone could be doing, particularly planning ahead and preparing to carry out those plans. Beyond the section for what everyone could be doing, I've broken it down by regions with their specific zones. If you don't know which zone you're in, click here for the article I posted that shows maps and legends by region. I have also included several links within the article about specific topics in case you need more information. Whichever region you live in, be sure to read to the end where you'll find several related tips.

Things we should all be doing:
  • Feed the birds! Make sure the birds and other small animals have food and unfrozen water as there's little to be found this time of year. Not only will you be doing a good thing for God's creatures, but it will also help to keep the varmints from feeding on your plants and destroying them before they've had a chance to bloom in the new year.
  • Recycle your Christmas tree, which you can use as mulch for your garden perennials. You could even make a bird feeder out of it by stringing garlands of peanuts, popcorn, cranberries, fruits and suet (raw beef or mutton fat) through its boughs.
  • Check for plants that have been lifted from the soil by frost heaving. Extreme temperature fluctuations cause repeated cycles of freezing and thawing, which makes the water in the soil expand and contract. This pushes plants up out of the soil, breaking some roots and exposing others to cold temperatures and drying winds that can seriously damage, stunt or kill them. They should be covered with some mulch until things warm up enough so that the roots aren't so brittle. When the time is right, you can then more gently work them back into the ground (doing so when the roots are brittle can also damage, stunt or kill them).
  • Check your stored bulbs and veggies to be sure they are not drying out. Discard those with signs of rot.
  • Sharpen and oil your garden tools so you'll be good and ready when the time comes. You might even check your wheelbarrow, weedeater and mower to be sure they're in good working order, making any necessary repairs and doing any required maintenance. You don't want to wait until you need them to find out that they need work before you can use them.
  • Review last year's garden journal and start a new one by recording your seed/plant orders and then start ordering what you can from catalogs. If you haven't been keeping a journal, you should start doing so this year to keep a record of how your garden grows for future planning.
  • Check mulch to be sure plant roots are well-protected and add more to paths to help suppress weeds.
  • Check outdoor plants for animal damage and take measures to prevent further damage.
  • Check indoor plants for pests and tackle any "debugging" that may be required.
  • Plan or rework your garden design, making sure to consider the needs of the plants -- sun/shade, watering/moisture, soil type (PH balance), heat tolerance, etc. You should also research what types of plants work well together, what will attract the friendly bugs, what will keep the bad ones out, and, if you have a problem with varmints, what will keep them away. Plants can actually serve a purpose other than beautifying our yards.

    This is where keeping a garden journal can help, keeping track of each plant's location and past performance so you can make necessary changes in the future. You might even want to draw a map of your garden for planning and using it as a guide when ordering plants and seeds.
  • You might even take a gardening class to help you develop a garden design as well as learn how to properly care for your plants and techniques for making sure the soil will promote growth for each of them.

To-Do's for those in Zones 6+:
  • Prune limbs damaged by ice or snow to prevent bark from tearing. To reduce injury, allow ice to melt naturally from plants and trees.
  • If the ground is workable (not frozen or too wet), now would be a good time to turn the soil. When you squeeze a handful of soil, it should form a ball that crumbles easily. If not, allow the soil to dry further before tilling or spading. This will expose insect eggs to hungry birds and any subsequent freezes, which will also help break apart heavy clods of dirt.
  • If the soil isn't frozen, get a head start on some outdoor winter sowing for both vegetables and flowers that need stratification, meaning they require a bit of cold weather in order to bring them out of dormancy for the growing season. For example, in order to bloom best, larkspur, Shirley poppies, sweet peas and snapdragons should be sown outdoors where you wish to plant them as they must sprout and begin growth well before the warm weather arrives.
  • Protect tender plants with some type of row cover when cold nights are forecasted.

For those in Zones 7+:
  • Prune roses, grapes, bramble fruits, perennials and trees, including fruit trees. Start with apples and pears first as peaches and nectarines should be pruned just before they bloom. For trees and shrubs, try an organic dormant spray on a mild day when the temperature is above freezing.
  • Now is the time to sow seeds indoors for slow-growing vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, greens, leeks, onions, peas, turnips, peppers and chiles. Sow carrots, greens and peas at the end of January.
  • Start sowing seeds indoors for slow-growing plants like ageratum, coleus, geranium, impatiens, nicotiana, pansies, petunia, portulaca, salvia, snapdragons and verbena.
  • Plant perennials, bareroot roses, trees (including fruit trees) and cool season vegetables, such as asparagus, artichokes, lettuce, peas, rhubarb and spinach.
  • Set out transplants of cool season flowers like pansies, petunias, snapdragons, sweet peas and violas to get them acclimated to the outdoors prior to transplanting.
  • Keep evergreens watered if the soil is dry and unfrozen.

For those in Zones 8b+ (Florida, California & South Texas):
  • Prune raspberry canes to the ground once they finish fruiting.
  • Take advantage of the cold spell with some quick growing peas, radishes and spinach.

Miscellaneous Tips:
  • When pruning diseased branches, sterilize tools in between cuts with a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water. Dry your tools when done and wipe a light coating of oil on them to prevent rusting.
  • When soils are wet and frozen, keep foot traffic to a minimum to avoid injury to lawns.
  • When sowing seeds indoors, be sure to use sterile soil to prevent diseases. As soon as seeds sprout, provide ample lighting to encourage stocky growth.
  • To extend the vase life of cut flowers: Recut stems under water with a sharp knife. Remove any stem foliage that would be under water. Use a commercial flower preservative and display flowers in a cool spot away from direct sunlight.
  • Branches of pussy will, quince, crabapple, forsythia, pear and flowering cherry may be forced indoors. Place cut stems in a vase of water and change the water every four days.
  • Now is the time for maple sugaring! Freezing nights and mild days get the sap to flowing, so don't miss out on this sweet deal!
  • Save the prunings of grape vines for making attractive wreaths and other craft projects.
  • Chinese Mantis, Carolina Mantis and Praying Mantis are all beneficial to your garden as they prey on the bad guys that could destroy it. So be sure not to damage or otherwise disturb their cocoons!

Chinese Mantis

Carolina Mantis

Praying Mantis

While this article is posted a bit late in January, the above still applies, especially since most of it needs to be taken care of later in the month, anyway. I'll be sure to have February's article and those for subsequent months ready by the first of each month. So keep your eyes peeled!