Arts & Leisure

Garden: Check your seeds and other January tips

PHALAENOPSIS FASCIATA

Checking stored seeds, stored summer bulbs and roots crops, and proper care for moth orchids are some of the gardening activities for this month.
This month is a good time to take stock of any seeds you’ve saved from previous seasons, perhaps even collected from your own flowers.  Keep in mind that many new flowers are hybrids, which don’t come “true” from their seeds.  They are produced by crossing specific parents, perhaps ones only the seed companies know or have.  Other flowers are grown from cuttings, rather than from seeds.
Do a germination test on any stored seeds to see how viable they are. Place 10 or 20 seeds between two sheets of moist paper towel and tuck them into a loosely tied plastic bag. Place in a warm area, and check every few days. If germination is less than 80 percent, or really slow, consider purchasing new seeds of that crop.  Otherwise, just sow many more this spring so you’ll end up with enough plants.
Potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, and other root crops that you have stored in your basement or root cellar should be checked regularly for signs of decay. Any vegetables that show any rotting should be removed and any good parts eaten (if possible) immediately, so they don’t spread the disease to other vegetables.
If you’ve stored tender summer bulbs, check them periodically.  Gladiolus corms are usually pretty easy to store as long as they don’t freeze.  Dahlia tubers, on the other hand, can die if they get too dry or stay too wet.  If they are stored in a medium such as sawdust, compost or similar, and it feels damp and tubers are getting mushy, replace them at once into a drier mix and cut off rotten portions.  If they are starting to shrivel, slightly dampen the storage medium.
If you haven’t grown your own fruits, consider adding some this year.   A good resource is “The Fruit Gardener’s Bible” by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry.  While it is easy to visit local growers to pick and buy quantities of fruits in summer and fall, such as for freezing or canning or making jams, it’s fun to grow some of your own.  You often can grow fruits you won’t find for sale, you’ll have some for ready picking for immediate fresh eating, and you’ll know what chemicals, if any, have been used on them.  When choosing fruits, pay attention to the space they’ll need, hardiness, and whether more than one selection is needed for cross-pollination.
When in flower, moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) need consistent temperatures of above 60 degrees at night and above 70 during the day. In New England, a south window in winter is not too much light, whereas it would be too much in summer. Fertilize with a dilute liquid orchid fertilizer (high phosphorous, low nitrogen). Let the soil dry out somewhat between watering, but don’t let it dry out completely. The flowers can be damaged by gas from a stove, cigarette smoke, and other chemicals in the air. If buds drop before opening, raise the humidity with a room humidifier, or by grouping plants together on top of pebbles in a tray with water up to the bottom of the pebbles.
Other activities for this month include keeping bird feeders and heated outdoor bird baths clean, moving clivia from cool dormant storage back into warmth and resuming watering, gently removing snow from shrubs, and using plant-safe deicing products on walks.
 Leonard Perry is a horticulturist at the University of Vermont. Charlie Nardozzi is a garden consultant.

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