Happy Horticultural New Year – 2014

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Wed., Jan. 8, 2014
- Contributed Photo

A new year of growth has begun, both in our lives and in our gardens. While it is too chilly to achieve much outdoors, you can use this frozen interlude to plan this year’s gardens and landscaping projects.

Gardening books and magazines, whether in hand or on tablet, can make the cold, wintry days seem a bit warmer. Use them for inspiration and guidance when creating or redesigning gardens and landscapes. There are so many topics out there to explore – from reproducing a colonial garden, to theme gardens, to sustainable landscapes, to gardening for wildlife. Think about your interests.

Was there a particular plant you admired this year? Check out new plants mentioned in blogs, newsletters and magazines. Did you have problems in the landscape or garden this year? My two biggest nemeses are the cucumber beetle, which I am used to battling, and the newer cross-striped caterpillar which has been attacking all my cole crops including broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale. Where cabbage loopers and cabbageworms generally have one generation per year, the cross-striped caterpillar can have up to three, so they are constantly munching on my plants! Also, they lay a lot of eggs and I just cannot keep up with handpicking the caterpillars so next year I am going to try some crop coverings like the row covers and some regular sprayings with Bt, which is a biological control for many voracious caterpillars. My point is that this is a great time to figure out what problems you encountered this year and to plan on a control strategy. You can call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 and describe your plant’s symptoms, and often the horticulturists can suggest what the problem might be and what to do about it.

Also, if you have been thinking about building that cold frame, compost bin, walkway, arbor or potting bench, why not spend some time to seek out DIY instructions now? Some projects might be best done by professionals, but there are quite a number that are easier to do than they look.

Seed and plant catalogs have been arriving daily by snail mail or email. Now that the holiday festivities are over, there will be more time to go through them and note any interesting selections. Even if you do not start plants from seed, quite a bit of information can be harvested from these catalogs. New hybrids and rediscovered heirlooms are listed along with their growth habits, hardiness, bloom times, pest resistance and other attributes. Knowing this information will assist you in deciding what to plant and where to plant it.

Before selecting new vegetable and flower varieties to grow this year, review last year’s performance of the same or similar plants. If you have not kept a planting record in the past, this may be a good time to begin. Records can be as simple or elaborate as you desire. Basically, you should note which varieties were planted, when, and how they performed, as well as weather-related information. Plants can then be evaluated with the past weather conditions in mind. For instance, check out my corn harvest. Each year, we plant an early and late corn at the same time so that their pollination times will not overlap. This year the early bicolor harvest was fine, but look at the late-season “Country Gentleman” white, shoepeg corn! The ears should all look as they do on the right, white and irregular, but we got many ears that were straight and even bicolored, so they cross-pollinated with the early corn because June was so cold and rainy and July so hot that the two cultivars overlapped in their pollination periods. Hopefully we will have a more normal summer in 2014, but the drier spring was really appreciated by all of us who work full time and keep hoping for drier weekend weather to get into the gardens.

Except in very wet falls, it is always a good idea to spray broad-leaved evergreens and rose canes with an anti-desiccant. It is too late to water as the ground has frozen, but if an anti-desiccant is applied, it will reduce the amount of water lost from your plants through their leaves and stems. If a February thaw comes, respray the plants.

Brighten the winter’s frosty grip. Pot up some amaryllis or paperwhites. Go to your local greenhouse and pick up a few flowering African violets, cyclamen or orchids and bring them home to serve as harbingers of the spring that is only a few months off. Make a dish garden and decorative it with fairies. Grow some air plants in the bathroom! Stick some succulents in that hot, south-facing window! Let it grow!

Use these winter months for garden planning – indoors or out. Resolve to make this the best gardening year ever. For any horticultural problem, call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, visit www.ladybug.uconn.edu, or contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

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