Gardening in the New Year – 2016

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

This article finds most of us ready to relax as a busy holiday season winds down. Quite possibly you are preparing for the new year. Beyond the festivities around New Year’s Eve followed by the pork and sauerkraut tradition that is ALWAYS, ALWAYS a must the next day at our house, I think about gardening!

In January, I think about the structure of the gardens by evaluating the remnants of the plants that remain. I don’t cut everything back for the winter in order to preserve cover for the birds and critters in bad weather. I have a Penn State Pollinator garden and as of this writing – early December – I still have some purple salvia in bloom. The sunflowers were buzzing with bees just a few weeks ago and I like to plan what else to plant next year to attract pollinators of all kinds. My swamp milkweed and mountain mint have been pollinator magnets in my gardens and now in their third winter, they have been amazing additions - a neighbor with too many Monarch babies brought some extras to me for adoption!

A few photos at this time of year (without the blooms) will help you evaluate the overall appearance of your plantings for balance. Photos allow you to "step back" and see the placement of hardscape in contrast to foundation plantings. Is there something that you want to add to enhance the overall appearance? Is there something you might add to your property’s plantings to improve the overall curb appeal? If you are working to achieve a balance of structural highlights, view your gardens from the windows of your home, the front door as well as decks and porches.

In February, my amaryllis are pushing buds for late winter blooms indoors. We enjoy Poinsettias over Christmas and as they fade, I bring out the amaryllis bulbs that have been resting through fall and forming buds over Christmas. In my opinion, there is no indoor bloom more striking than one of the many colors of amaryllis. I enjoy their striking appearance in February when winter is often at its bleakest. All it asks is to be outside in the summer, and after a brief rest in the basement, a stage to perform on indoors after Christmas. Of course, one can always push for blooms over the holidays; I save the amaryllis for later due to space constraints and to ensure a variety of blooms through winter.

In March, early bulbs are pushing through and it is magic to see the brown/ gray drab landscape pop with color. Enjoying this phenomenon requires some planning now for planting in the fall, so if you didn’t get a chance to focus on bulbs last fall, put it on your to-do list for the coming year.

Seed catalogs that fill our mailboxes each year offer more options than time, money and space can support. But what fun it is to shop on-line and by catalog to fill in the spaces we recognized in January. If space is the problem, simply make a new garden! In March and April, as soil begins to dry out, it is time to turn it over for putting in a new garden. Don’t forget to purchase a Penn State soil test kit to determine what soil amendments will be needed to ensure a productive result. (Soil test kits are available at the Extension Office in Gettysburg for $10 which includes mailing test results back to you.)

What can you do right now to ease your gardening need? Today? Visit your local garden center or big box store to see what items remain for sale after the Christmas rush! Fill a sunny window sill with houseplants that are new to you. No sunny windowsill? Place a small table by a window that has an appropriate level of light for the plant you purchase - houseplants are a great way to garden in winter.

These ideas come from a recent article in the December/ January edition of Birds&Blooms: Grow annuals indoors; start a few plants from cuttings from a friend. Start a plant from kitchen scraps – an avocado plant from a discarded pit or a new pineapple plant by placing a discarded green top in water.

Starting microgreens is a good way to begin vegetable gardening indoors before the weather warms outdoors – if you haven’t tried this, now is the time. A plant light or a sunny window with a need for even moisture is a requirement, of course. Or start herbs from seeds; try something that you don’t normally grow or use. Cultivate your taste buds!

And finally, give air plants a try. These little guys are pretty self-sufficient since they don’t need soil. However, my experience has been that they need a spray mist to survive, so some care is required.

Flip your calendar now, and begin the countdown until early plants push through the soil. Identify which of the above activities might get you gardening early. Unless, of course, you are just enjoying "no need to weed". I must say, as I get older I enjoy the respite from the work in my gardens. Using downtime after the holidays to dream of the growing season to come is time well-spent in producing a plan.

Most of all, be well and be safe in the New Year. And prepare to get your hands dirty again real soon!

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