Now is a good time to order fruit plants from mail order companies. Be sure to select recommended, disease-resistant varieties whenever possible. When purchasing bare root plant stock, make sure that your requested shipping date falls after the ground has thawed. If you have room for several varieties, stagger the fruiting times. For instance, if it’s raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries that you’re planting, choose early, mid-season and late varieties for a longer harvest period.
You rarely see them but cutworm damage is unmistakable. They destroy perfectly healthy seedlings within a matter of hours by chewing through the stem at the soil line. I’ve lost broccoli, corn, lettuce and spinach seedlings until I learned this trick. Start saving toilet paper or paper towel tubes and cut them into three inch lengths. Then make a vertical cut top to bottom so that they can be opened on one side and you can slip them around the stem and root ball of the plants. When you plant your seedlings, put a section of the toilet paper roll around each plant, pushing it into the soil an inch down. The tubes will protect your seedlings for weeks until your seedlings will be too large to sustain any damage. Recycling at its best!
Check your potatoes and onions that you put in storage last Fall and remove any that are sprouting or drying out. Potatoes will last around 6 months when stored in an unheated basement (around 35 – 40°F) and onions will last 3 – 4 months. There are specific varieties for both that will have a longer shelf life.
Years ago, when I had several cats and dogs, I used to grow cat grass indoors during the winter months. They all LOVED this treat and it was so easy to grow! Cat grass is a type of cereal grass such as oat grass or wheat grass which can be grown indoors from seeds. Simply fill a pot with organic Bar Harbor Potting soil and scatter a handful of cat grass seed over the top of this in one thin, even layer. Then press the seeds down into the moist soil. Water in the seeds lightly and put the pot in a warm and sunny place. Keep the soil moist and the seeds will sprout in under a week. When the grass has grown several inches tall, the leaves of the cat grass plant can be fed to your cat or dog as a treat to help satisfy their craving for greens.
Usually by February, I’ve absolutely had it with winter and can’t wait to see some Spring color. That’s when I reach for my pruners and head outside to visit my forsythia shrubs. I cut off branches at a sharp angle and then arrange them in vases inside where they’ll bloom in a few weeks. You can force many types of flowering trees and shrubs….dogwood, lilac, cherry, crabapple….to name a few
Light pruning of apple and pear trees can be done this month, weather permitting. The trees are still dormant so you’ll avoid shocking them and the healing time will be faster. Be sure that your pruning tools are sharp and have been sterilized using a soft cloth that is dipped in a 10% bleach solution.
Once I purchase vegetable and flower seeds from my local garden center , I pull out last year’s garden notes and photos to decide which areas will be suitable for planting the new flowers. This task saves a lot of time when it’s May and there are so many plants to find homes for. It’s a good idea to look at the ultimate plant height & width, sun exposure, compatibility with surrounding plants, and bloom time.
As for the vegetables, I try to make the effort to rotate my crops every year. The same vegetables (and their families) should not be planted in the same place year after year due to their unique nutritional needs. The Brassicaceae family (cauliflower, kale, broccoli, cabbage etc…) require lots of nitrogen for good leaf growth and are generally considered heavy feeders . A crop to follow nitrogen hungry Brassicas may be legumes such as peas, beans and lentils. Legumes feed lightly and have the ability to ‘fix’ nitrogen into soils, improving the nitrogen content for future crops. Plotting your vegetable garden beds on paper can make this an easy yearly task. Saving each years garden plan will show you what was planted in that particular spot several years ago.
Save your eggshells! They contain valuable calcium carbonate that tomato, eggplant and pepper plants need in order to prevent blossom end rot. Rinse any remaining egg white out of the shells, then place them on a plate and microwave them for 2 minutes to sterilize them. After they have cooled, crumble them up and store them in an airtight container until Spring. I keep mine under the kitchen sink next to the compost bucket.
The finer the shell particle is, the more readily available the calcium is for your plants. Pulverize the shell bits in a blender or food processor and then you’re ready to plant! I place a handful of shells at the bottom of each planting hole and work it into the soil. Halfway through the growing season when the tomatoes are sizing up, you’ll need to replenish the calcium. Applying a 1″ topdress of Quoddy Lobster Compost, which is rich in calcium, around the plants will keep the blossom end rot at bay!
One more quick note…I used to put eggshells in my compost pile but more often than not, Blue Jays would make off with them. They eat them for the calcium which they need (more than any other bird) especially during the breeding season. If you do put eggshells out for the birds or in your compost pile, please be sure to sterilize them first. Unsterilized egg shells may contain harmful Salmonella bacteria.