January is an important month for gardening
And for indoor plants some key steps are required
January is the first month of the growing new year, and for those folk who like gardening it is the month to start taking care of last year’s “green thumb”. How does one do that, you might ask? People with green thumbs know that January is the planning month for every annual that is planted out of doors. Flowers as well as vegetables need carefully laid out gardens to achieve maximum visual effects and production.
Plants used as corner decor (Judy Palm photo) Dry plants in need of water (Judy Palm) photo
January is also an important month for indoor gardeners. For we who live in the northern states, the major need of indoor plants is water. Hot air furnaces dry out houses and every house plant; steam heat is not much better because it is the heat in the house that dries potted plants. The smaller the pots the more frequent is the need for watering. People with indoor potted plants would be wise to aerate the dirt in the pots to make sure the water goes down around the roots and does not just flow to the inside wall of the pot and run down to the bottom drain hole. A general rule of thumb for a potted plant is that one should be able to push one’s pointer finger into the soil to the depth of first knuckle and find moisture in the dirt.
If one has poinsettias and they begin to drop their petals, it is a normal routine. This indicates that the poinsettias are entering into the normal rest routine. All plants (trees, shrubs, bushes, flowers, perennials, etc.) need dormant times to rest and rejuvenate for good health. Aspidistras may be propagated in January. The important factor for success is to make sure there is a leaf with each part that has been broken up. If palms are part of the indoor plants, they need to be left fairly dry if in a cool part of the home. Winter is a dry time for palms. Lilies of the valleys can be forced, usually within 3 weeks, if the pips are planted. Single tulips may be brought into the heated areas. Another suggestion is to take potted plants out of their pots to see if they need to be repotted in the next sized pots. Plants that have become rooted in their small pots will not achieve their potential. When repotting the plants, break the roots apart with your hands to ensure they will spread into the new, larger pot soil.
Poinsettia. (Judy Palm photo)
Pruning is a winter to early spring (before growth starts) activity. The dormant time of the year is a good time to remove limbs as the sap is in the roots and the cuts will not bleed much and will be healed over by spring which is important to keep the insects from boring into the cut wood. Grape vines need to be pruned at this time of the year and hard cut back is done if new wood growth is desired. Other fruit trees can be pruned anytime when the winter is not too cold. Due to our cold weather most gardeners will wait until we are closer to spring before pruning hardwood trees and bushes. Maples should not be pruned until summer.
In the June 2008 issue of Rye Reflections I wrote an extensive article on pruning lilacs for growth and flowers The Common Lilac requires special handling
. Contained within are some generic rules for general pruning including the preferred method (3 cut system) for cutting large limbs that are more than 2 inches in diameter. If there are pruning concerns, please refer back to that article.
If one is cutting large limbs, take care to keep the bark attached fully to the wood that will remain with the tree. Use a pruning saw for the cuts because the tines are filed from within the blades and will result with a smooth cut area. Remember that the cut needs to be a quarter of an inch outside of the collar. Do not paint anything on the surface as painting will inhibit the natural repair of the cut. If the cut is properly done, the collar bark will grow over the cut in a few years leaving the tree in good health.
Some more thoughts for January: it is the perfect month to plan a composting system. If one goes to the Urban Forest Center on Elwyn Road in Portsmouth, you will find that there is a composting section that was installed. I was involved with promoting one of the composting bins in 1994 and that bin was displayed around the state of New Hampshire. My basic bin was made by cutting off the bottom of a 55 gallon plastic garbage bin and putting the wider open top on to a bare dirt location that has been roughened at the surface. The lid of the bin was put on as a top to make an enclosed compost bin. The only other things that were needed to complete the compost bin were to drill some one inch holes around the new top part of the bin. A dozen one inch holes near (the new top) that are equally spaced would be sufficient.
Compost is made from green uncooked vegetables that are spread out in thin layers in the enclosed bin. Cooked vegetables are garbage and should be thrown out. The only exceptions are coffee grinds and egg shells which may be added to the compost. Compost, properly made, does not stink, does not rot and will not attract animals like skunks, dogs, raccoons and so forth. To make compost, all that is needed is to add a green layer and cover that layer with a thin layer of dirt. By covering the layer of green with a brown (dirt/soil) layer, fruit flies will not congregate in the compost bin. Then, before you put in another green layer, you need to stir up the previous layers and spread them around to make a flat layer. Add a green layer and then brown one and then cover the bin.
My wife and I found that two 55 gallon bins would make compost from the green cuttings from the average family of four people. One bin would be used until it was filled and then would be left to make its compost while we put our cuttings in the second bin. By the time we filled the second bin, the first bin would be ready for our garden. We strained our compost to take out the lumps and woody parts not yet made into compost because we used our compost both inside and outside. If outside beds are the only places where compost is being used, then straining the compost is not a necessary step.
There are lots of ways to make compost from turning in the old plants into the beds from which they grew to enclosing the greens in bins. If you are lucky enough to have trees that drop their leaves in the fall, you might start a large leaf mold bin. Leaf mold compost when made is an excellent starting soil for seeds. If container gardening is your thing, one to two inches of leaf mold in every pot will enhance what you grow in the pot. No leaf mold? Put a piece of charcoal (made from real wood as opposed to the coal variety) to keep your potted plants growing in sweet soil.
A final note: if possible, composting should be stopped in July and August as these are the months when the fruit flies mate. If we cover our compost piles tightly for these two months making sure there are no green areas exposed to the air, we can dramatically reduce fruit flies. Come September and throughout the rest of the year, compost can be made until the end of June when once again it is time to cover the bins.
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