The Ornamental Garden in January

  • By Pat Chadwick
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  • January 2016-Vol.2 No.1
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It’s January, the dead of winter, and the avid — or should I say rabid — gardeners among us are suffering from gardening withdrawal.  It may be too cold and miserable to work outside, but there is much that can be done from the comfort of your home. So start a fire in the fireplace, put on your warmest sweater and bunny slippers, and begin by pouring through all those plant and seed catalogs that have been piling up since November.

  • DREAM. This is the best time of year to daydream about this coming spring’s ornamental garden. If you’re like me, you probably have a list of favorite plants that you grow year in and year out. But once in a while, it’s fun to try something new. So, go wild and crazy! If you dream of something variegated, then cushion spurge (Euphorbia martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’) or red twig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) might be just the ticket.   Do you yearn to try something outlandishly orange? If so, then butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) or California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) might appeal to you. How about growing a plant with burgundy or purple foliage? Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria) or the fall foliage of oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) might make your heart sing.   Or how about growing something more exotic or tropical, such as elephant ears (Colocasia) or a dwarf Cavendish banana tree?
  • LIST all the plants you’ve secretly thought about growing but didn’t have the nerve to try. Be daring and experiment with something a little different!
  • ORDER early from plant catalogs. While supplies are plentiful, order flower seeds and any other supplies you need, so that you will be well prepared when it’s time to start seedlings. Make sure you’ve got enough cell packs, transplant pots, soil-less potting mix, heat mats, fertilizer, etc. If you have a grow-light setup, check the lightbulbs to make sure they work.
  • SORT through all those plant tags you’ve accumulated over the years. If you have no need for the tags, get rid of them. Personally, I like to keep mine (probably because of the packrat gene I inherited). Organize them in whatever system makes sense to you. For example, arrange them alphabetically by plant name or sort them by type (perennial, annual, shrub, tree, vine, bulb, etc.).
  • CREATE a master list of gardening tasks for each month of the year, using the tasks and tips provided in previous issues of this newsletter to help you. Include such tasks as planting, pruning, dividing, fertilizing, weeding, treating for pests, pinching, and deadheading.  This will help keep you focused and perhaps save you a lot of time later.
  • CREATE permanent labels for your ornamental plants. How often have you accidentally dug up or damaged spring-blooming bulbs because you didn’t know they were there? By preparing labels for them now, they will be ready to install as your plants emerge from the soil in the spring time.
  • LEARN a few basic botanical terms. 
    • Take some of the mystery out of plant identification information on plant tags.  For example, growth habits are often described using the terms listed below:
        • Gracilis — slender or graceful
        • Globosa — round or globe shaped
        • Pyramidalis — pyramid shaped
        • Fastigiata or columnaris — upright or columnar shaped
        • Nana or pumila — a dwarf plant
        • Repens — a creeping plant
        • Prostrata or procumbens — a plant that grows flat to the ground
        • Scandens — a climbing plant
    • With the growing emphasis on planting native species, this sample list of botanical terms, signifying plant origins, may help you determine whether a plant is native or non-native:
        • Americana or Americanus – of or from the Americas (both North and South)
        • Anglica – of or from England
        • Australis – of or from the Southern Hemisphere (but not necessarily from Australia)
        • Borealis – of or from the Northern Hemisphere
        • Canadensis – of or from Canada or North-eastern North America
        • Carolinianus – of or from North or South Carolina
        • Chinensis or sinensis – of or from China
        • Japonica – of or from Japan
        • Mexicana – of or from Mexico
        • Occidentalis – Western (especially North American)
        • Siberica – of or from Siberia
        • Virginiana or Virginianus – of or from Virginia (United States)
    • Overwintering tender bulbs to make sure they are still plump and free of mold. If they’re looking a bit shriveled, spray them with just enough water to barely moisten them.
    • Houseplants for pests, such as white flies, scale, spider mites, mealybugs or  fungus gnats.
    • Gardening tools. Clean, sharpen, and oil your shovels, hoes, pruners, saws, loppers, hedge trimmers, wheelbarrows, lawn mowers, and any other gardening equipment or tools you own. Order any tools you want to add to your inventory or to replace any that are beyond repair.

Finally, if you’re really desperate to do a gardening-related project, create a plant inventory database.  This is particularly useful if you have an extensive collection of plants. A database is a good way to keep track of their location, characteristics, cultural needs, and any special information regarding their care and maintenance. A gardening journal can be used for this purpose. Or, if you’re comfortable using computer spreadsheets, this is an even better method for entering information such as the plant’s botanical name, common name, cultivar or variety, height, width, bloom time, cultural requirements (sunlight and water), deer resistance, drought tolerance, etc.



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