Perennials: Gardeners will be tempted to push the envelope and try more tender varieties outside their USDA climate zone. Are we in Zone 5, or 6 or 6B? Climate change seems 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 samples to your local Cornell Cooperative Extension. Amend the soil with organic matter to correct a low or high pH.
Trees and shrubs: Renovation or heavy pruning can be done in early spring on overgrown taxus, rhododendron and hedges. Feed well with an acidic fertilizer. New growth on the lower branches 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 the ground is firm for any 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. They are a good antidote for gray winter days, and you’ll see new fashions in flowers and plants.