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Let’s Get Gardening in January

Brighten up grey winter days with some cheerful cut flowers.

By Jennifer Fairfield, owner the Garden Mill

The Garden Mill will be closed for the entire month of January, and will reopen on Feb.1.

While we’re closed, you can still shop the Online Store. It’s not actually that we won’t be at the store for much of the month – we’ll be doing cleanup, inventory, and getting in lots of new products for the new season.

We do plan to try to take a little time off later in the month, but we’ll also be happy to make arrangements to meet you curbside with orders placed online, or ship them to you.

Shop online at any time this month, and then come in and see us in February. And if there’s something you need that you don’t see in our online store, send us a note at [email protected], and we can see if we have it in stock.

January is a great time for catching up on all the things you meant to get to but didn’t – cleaning containers that you want to re-use in the spring, cleaning and sharpening tools that you didn’t get to after your last forays in the garden – and for making plans for the upcoming gardening season.

Now is the time to make up for any neglect you may have shown your indoor plants while you were busy tending to the outdoor ones. Make sure they are getting as much sun as possible now.

Winter in Michigan doesn’t provide a whole lot of sun, and even our sunny days aren’t as bright as they are in the summer, so moving your plants to a south-facing window, or putting them closer to whatever windows you have, will help them get as much sun as possible. Just don’t let them touch the glass, as it can be far too cold for most plants. Also, clean off any dust that has accumulated on leaves of your indoor plants so they can take better advantage of what sun they do get.

File photo. In full bloom with a friend in the background that will bloom.

Give your indoor plants some humidity, too. Indoor air at this time of year is generally very dry, which is hard on plants. Provide them with a little extra humidity by putting a room humidifier near them or putting trays of water around them. Just be careful that a humidifier isn’t blowing right on them or creating a cold draft.

For most indoor plants, this should be a time when they don’t need fertilizer – or need less. There are some plants, such as African violets, that bloom all year round, so need regular fertilization all year, but for most everything else, it’s best to cut back on fertilizing at this time of year, to let them have a rest from growing and blooming.

If you’re not sure what your plant needs, there are a number of good advice websites. is one I like because it offers lots of basic information, including fertilization needs, for a number of popular houseplants.

Being a book lover, my favorite resource for houseplant care is a book called “The Houseplant Expert” by Dr. D.G. Hessayon. It’s not a new book – mine goes back to 1991 – but the information in it is still relevant, and I rely on it all the time. Check with your local bookseller (my favorite is Serendipity Books, in Chelsea) to see if they can get you a copy. I’m sure you’ll find the book as helpful as I do.

Winter is also a good time to repot any plants that have outgrown their current pots and are getting root-bound. Root-bound plants dry out faster, and generally don’t do well, looking a bit sickly the longer they are stuck in a too-small pot. When re-potting, don’t go up too much in pot size, unless the plant is severely root-bound, and a significantly larger pot is the only way to spread the roots out.

The general rule of thumb is to only go up one to two inches more in diameter and height than the current pot. If your plant is already in a pretty big pot, you might want to divide it into smaller plants. You can find information on how to divide potted plants here.

Take some time to look out into your yard and gardens while you are sitting inside. This time of year is great for seeing where you have bare spots, and where you might want to add some winter interest. Red twig dogwood, with branch color that stands out against the snow and gray; evergreens that provide color when everything else is brown; or even garden art, such as statuary or furniture can all help liven up the winter garden, and look good the rest of the year, too. 

Write down thoughts about where you want to make improvements now, so you can be prepared to put those plans into action in the spring, and be sure to take some pictures to remind you of what you were seeing – it can be hard to keep those pictures in your head once spring starts to pop.

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things to do in the depth of winter is to go through all the seed catalogs that come in the mail and start planning what I want to plant in the upcoming season – it’s just a great way to keep the winter blahs at bay, dreaming of all the wonderful vegetables, herbs, and flowers that I’ll be growing this spring and summer.

Seeds will begin to be available on the Garden Mill website about mid-January, so be sure to check them out – and order yours early, since it looks like we will still have some of the challenges we experienced last year when it comes to getting in products, including seeds.

It is still a little early to start seeds for outdoors just yet, but you’ll want to have your seeds by February, to get some of the early plants started in time for planting outdoors. Of course, you can always grow some things indoors, under lights. Lettuce and herbs do well as indoor-grown plants that can give you a taste of fresh produce throughout the winter months.

If you bought a poinsettia this season, and you don’t want to just toss it in the trash after the holidays, you can get it to re-bloom next year, with just a little TLC (a customer recently told us that she still has one, that she bought from us last year, that looks great. – I’m impressed).

MSU extension has all the details to help you keep yours throughout the year.

Christmas cactus are even easier to get to bloom again next year, and for years to come – I know many people who have Christmas cactus that are decades old. This article from the University of Illinois extension tells you everything you need to know about how to keep yours healthy and beautiful.

One thing you can do this month, if you really feel the gardening itch, is to pot up some bulbs for forcing. Forcing bulbs, such as crocus, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and muscari (grape hyacinths) can be a great way to get a taste of spring a little earlier than spring usually shows itself around here.

Most bulbs need a cooling period that mimics winter in order to bloom, so you need to make sure that the bulbs you get have had sufficient cooling to be forced.

For the details on how to force bulbs, see this article from Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension, and check out our website for what bulbs we still have available – they’ve all been chilling in our shed for a few weeks, so should be in good shape for forcing (though most will need a little longer chilling in order to bloom well – most are likely to give you great blooms in late March or early April, if potted and kept cool now).

Some bulbs, such as amaryllis and paperwhites don’t need a chilling period to bloom.

It looks like we’re in for some of the coldest temperatures of the season to-date over the next couple of weeks, which means the snow we just got likely isn’t going anywhere. The sort-of good thing about the snow sticking around is that it can act as an insulating blanket over the ground. Which means that right now, the ground beneath all that snow is probably not totally frozen yet.

If, like me, you didn’t get protective wind barriers up around your evergreens yet, you should be able to do that still, but don’t put it off much more than the next couple of days, since the ground is likely to freeze soon, with the lower temps and lighter snow cover than we were expecting. Frozen ground doesn’t allow plants to take up water, which makes it all the easier for evergreens to dry out and potentially sustain significant damage from the cold and wind of winter.

Screening evergreens with burlap can make all the difference to their survival, but don’t wrap your evergreens in burlap or other covering. Wrapping them up can cause even more damage than the wind alone. Heavy snow and ice can accumulate on the covering, weighing down your trees and shrubs, and breaking branches. Putting up a barrier, using stakes to hold the barrier in place, is the best way to protect evergreen trees and shrubs.

The weather people are saying that we will have above normal temperatures and above normal precipitation this winter. That means that we are likely to see more snow than we did last year, but it will also likely be the wet, heavy kind. We are also more likely to have ice, as the temperatures hover around the freezing mark. I’m sure that thought thrills you as much as it does me.

Courtesy photo by Jennifer Fairfield. Snow covered trees.

Heavy, wet snow is very hard on outdoor plants – especially trees and shrubs, and even more so evergreens. So, when we do get the next big snow, take a look at your trees – especially the evergreens – to see if the snow is weighing down branches. If so, it might be a good idea to try to clear the snow from them to prevent damage. Gently brush the snow off, but be careful not to bang on the branches, as that can do more harm than the snow.

If we get ice, don’t try to remove ice that encases branches. You can cause far more damage than the ice on its own. Let ice melt off naturally, and enjoy the beauty of the ice sparkling in the sun in the meantime.

I would still recommend waiting to do any pruning of trees and shrubs, as we really haven’t had much truly cold weather yet. Pruning is best done in the depth of winter, when trees are dormant and insects are long gone. If we get a few weeks of really cold weather, then the end of this month and into February should be a good time for pruning.

Did you have a fresh cut Christmas tree this year? If so, when you are ready to take it down, consider putting it to use in your yard, rather than putting it out on the curb for trash pick-up. Here are some great ideas for ways to use your tree to benefit the birds and other wildlife.

Be sure to keep bird feeders full this winter. Keeping feeders clean and filled can be a time-consuming task, but one that will bring lots of pleasure as you watch your feathered friends show their appreciation for all your hard work.

Courtesy photo.

Feeding them throughout the winter also encourages them to stick around in the spring and summer, when they help to keep insects under control.

The best time to fill feeders is actually right before we get a big winter storm, for two reasons: first, because it gives the birds the chance to fuel up before the storm hits, and second, because most of us aren’t likely to want to go out and trudge through the snow or risk the ice, to feed the birds. Once you can get out safely after a storm, clear the snow off feeders to give the birds better access to the food.

Helping to provide fresh water is also important for your birds during the winter. Putting out a heated birdbath or putting a de-icer in your birdbath can be a literal lifesaver for birds during the winter, and watching them in the water is loads of fun, too.

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