Perennials: Gardeners are now tempted to “push the envelope” and try more tender varieties. Are we in Zone 5, or 6, or 6B? Climate changes seem to indicate a higher zone. Many perennials were still blooming at the New York Botanical Garden in December. Why not take a chance and plant tender perennials in protected spots?
Flowers: Seeds to plant indoors now: ageratum, alyssum, asters, nicotiana, petunias, phlox, stock and scabiosa.
Vegetables and fruits: Before planting seeds take samples of soil in several areas and test for pH, which indicates whether the ground is acidic or alkaline. Vegetables prefer a pH reading of 5.5 to 6.8. Soil test kits are available at garden centers or send the samples to your county Cornell Cooperative Extension. Amend the soil with organic matter to correct a low or high pH.
Trees and shrubs: Renovation pruning (cutting back severely) can be done in early spring on overgrown taxus, rhododendron and most hedges. Feed well with an acidic fertilizer. New growth will appear on the lower branches, which will improve the shrubs’ shape and appearance. Browned evergreens indicate winter wind and sun damage. Do not write them off. They may recover in spring when new growth emerges.
Lawns: If the lawn is not too soft begin removing debris by hand or gentle raking. Wait until ground is firm to do the vigorous raking. Spread lime if not done already.
Houseplants: Pinch back houseplants to improve their appearance. Continue light fertilizing. Check frequently for insects and treat with a shower bath. Bulbs that have been forced can be placed in a light but not sunny window in anticipation of blooming.
General: This is the season for flower shows, where you can see the newest fashions in flowers and plants. Attendance is a good antidote for gray winter days.