University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News ArticlelineTHE ZZ PLANT AND OTHER FEBRUARY GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist

   
Growing care-free houseplants like the ZZ plant, starting begonias from seeds, and attending a flower show are some of the gardening activities for this month.

If you’re getting cabin fever, visit a local indoor plant retailer or greenhouse for some easy-to-grow houseplants.  The ZZ plant, short for its long scientific name (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) looks rather prehistoric yet attractive with its thick shiny green leaves and thick stalks.  It is pretty care free, but do watch for possible scale insects.  Keep it on the dry side.  Give medium to bright indirect light, although it will tolerate fairly low light.  Usually, just watering once every week or so, and dusting periodically is all it needs.
   
Another great low-care indoor plant, which lives quite well in low light, is the cast-iron plant (Aspidistra).  Give it similar lack of attention as the ZZ plant. The long strap-like leaves traditionally were just green, but some newer cultivars (cultivated varieties) like ‘Milky Way’ have spots or white streaks in leaves.
  
It’s still too early to start most flowers, but you should start the really slow growers like waxleaf begonias, pansies, and violas.  Some perennials, such as a few of the seed-grown new coneflowers (Echinacea) can be started very early too, in order to bloom the first summer. Use a soilless potting mix, and keep seed containers warm (70 degrees or so is best).  If your house is cool, you can use an inexpensive seed heating mat for these.  Put containers in plastic bags until seedlings start growing so the sowing medium doesn’t dry out.
   
Long-season alliums, such as leeks and onions, should be started from seed now too.  Snip the ends of the alliums periodically to keep them about 3 to 4 inches tall and help them grow strong.
   
Be sure to make plans to attend the biennial Vermont Flower Show, to be held February 28-29, and March 1 at the Champlain Expo in Essex Junction.  A full description of the huge central display, listing of vendors, and schedule of talks and events can be found online from the sponsoring association (greenworksvt.org). 
   
Don’t forget to give someone special flowers for Valentine’s Day.  If fragrant flowers, make sure the person isn’t allergic to the fragrance (some hyacinths and lilies can be quite strong).  Potted flowering plants usually last much longer than cut flowers.  Can’t decide?  Then get a gift certificate from a local florist or even garden store.
   
Terrariums and fairy gardens are still very popular, and a good winter-time activity to make.  They’re a great activity to involve children with, too.  Visit your local houseplant retailer or greenhouse for small plants, supplies, and accessories.  You can get very elaborate and expensive glass containers for terrariums, or simply use old glass bowls or fish tanks.  Make sure to use a loose, loamy houseplant mix (not garden soil nor one that packs too tightly). Try to pick plants that are slow growing, so your creation will last as long as possible without having to seriously prune or replace plants.  Consider a “dry” terrarium with succulent plants or cacti.
   
Other activities for this month include bringing any potted bulbs from the cold into the warmth to force blooms, cutting back flower stalks of amaryllis after bloom, giving smaller houseplants a mildly soapy water bath to rinse off dust and any insects, brushing heavy snow and ice (gently) off trees and shrubs, and inventorying gardening supplies.

 (Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).

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