Starting leeks from seeds, properly keeping snow off shrubs, and giving cut flowers the right care are some of the gardening tips for this month.
Long-season alliums, such as leeks and onions, should be started from seed now. They need 10 to 12 weeks of growth indoors before they go in the garden. Sprinkle the seed on top of seed-starting mix, keep it moist, and as soon as the seedlings emerge, place the flats under grow lights so they grow strong. Begonias and pansies are couple of flowers you might start now too.
Although a sunny windowsill is an ideal spot for sun-loving houseplants, be sure the plants aren't too close to the glass or they could be damaged by the cold. Also, since heating vents are often located underneath windows, plants are prone to drying out quickly. You may want to move plants to a different location until the weather moderates.
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 large 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.
For seeds that need warmth to germinate, a heat mat underneath the flat can make a big difference. Once the seedlings are up, move them off the mat and grow them on at a cooler temperature to encourage strong, stocky growth. You can find inexpensive mats at some garden stores and online seed firms. Try putting a piece of reflective foil insulation underneath the mat to direct the heat up towards the flat.
Arrange cut flowers in a vase of warm water, and add commercial floral preservative. Or, you can make your own preservative with one cup lemon-lime soda (regular, not sugar free), one cup water, and a half teaspoon of household bleach. The sugar in the soda provides energy for the flowers, and the bleach controls bacteria. If you need more liquid, just increase the amounts proportionately.
Change the water in the vase every couple of days. In mixed bouquets, some of the flowers may give off sap that is toxic to other varieties in the vase and shortens their vase life. Daffodils are one such flower. You can reduce this effect by frequently refreshing the water or keeping daffodils in a vase by themselves. When you change the water, recut about a half-inch off the bottom of flower stems. This helps ensure the conducting vessels don't get plugged.
If you are preparing to start seeds under grow lights or fluorescent shop lights indoors, check the tubes for signs of age. Tubes that have been used for two to three seasons probably have lost much of their intensity even though they look fine. Dark rings on the ends of the tubes signal they need to be replaced. If just setting up such tubes, try the slimmer and more energy efficient ones. Alternate ones giving off warm and cool colors to provide the best light.
By Charlie Nardozzi of the National Gardening Association and by Dr. Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont.