Gently removing snow from tree and shrub branches, keeping bird feeders clean, and checking houseplants for pests are some of the gardening activities for this month.
When tree and shrub branches bend under the weight of a new snowfall, use a broom to gently brush off the snow. Don't try to remove ice or you might break the branch. It's possible to save a branch that partially splits from the main trunk if you tie it in place and use long screws (coming from each direction, if necessary) to secure it. If done right away, the tree may callous over the wound and heal itself next season, and not split further.
Birds deserve clean food surfaces as much as we do. Every few weeks bring the feeders inside and wash them with soap and water into which a little bleach has been added (1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Rinse thoroughly. If you have a heated bird bath, keep it scrubbed and cleaned regularly as well. I keep an old brush handy, just for this purpose whenever I refill the bath.
Aphids and spider mites may be multiplying like crazy amidst your houseplants, especially if they are grouped close together. Isolate each plant and inspect it closely, with a magnifying glass if necessary. Treat these pests by holding the plant and pot upside down and submerging the foliage in a sink full of soapy water (wrap aluminum foil over the soil to keep it from falling out). In severe cases, spray the plant with insecticidal soap.
Look on houseplants where the leaves join the stems for the white masses of mealybugs. Rub them off with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. If you see brown lumps on stems and leaves, these are likely scale insects. They are hard to control, as even rubbing them off they seem to reappear in a few weeks, so check plants often.
If that potted lavender, geranium, bougainvillea or similar tender plant that you're overwintering inside has sent out spindly new shoots, keep trimming it back until the increased sunlight can support sturdier growth.
If you keep any kind of gardening journal, dig it out now and refresh your memory about what worked and what didn't work last year. Read notes you took at garden visits and gardening workshops to give you ideas of plants and techniques you may want to try this year. If you don't have a gardening journal, just designate a small notebook as a place to collect your thoughts and wish lists. I simply have a folder for each year that I tuck notes in during the year, (such as ideas for next year's vegetable garden, and what varieties I want to try), as well as plant lists, receipts (to know what I bought), and maps of what I planted and where.
If you want to have the best selection of plants ready to go into the ground when you're ready to plant, place plant orders early. The selection dwindles the longer you wait, especially for new and unusual varieties. Some very tiny seeds such as begonias need to be sown in winter. Others, such as the new All-America winning coneflower PowWow Wild Berry, need to be sown the end of January in order to bloom the first year from seed.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach (CharlieNardozzi.com). Distribution of this release is made possible by New England Grows--a conference providing education for industry professionals and support for Extension's outreach efforts in ornamental horticulture.