University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article
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USING SAFE SALTS AND OTHER FEBRUARY GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Deicing walks safely for plants, searching catalogs and online for new flowers and vegetables, and growing flamingo flowers indoors are some of the gardening activities for this month.

When deicing walks, use one of the granular products with a “chloride” other than from sodium—these are safer on plants.  They may cost a bit more, but you often can use less product.  Calcium chloride works best in the coldest areas (down to about 5 degrees F).  If below this temperature, don’t use any chemical product but rather sand instead for traction.  To save on cost and dilute the salt too, mix it with a large portion of coarse kitty litter.  Liquid products don’t track into buildings as granular ones often do.  Apply any material before ice and snow, if possible, for best results. 

If you are clearing your driveway with a snow blower this winter, direct the snow away from plants. Otherwise, the blowing ice crystals may damage the tender bark of young trees and shrubs. This isn't as much of a concern for plants wrapped with burlap.

A great winter pastime for gardeners is spending hours with seed and plant catalogs, or at such firms online.  Make sure if choosing fruit plants that they are suited for your region and hardiness zone.  Make sure if choosing vegetables that the varieties fit your growing season.  Catalogs generally will list how many days from sowing, or transplanting (read the fine print to find out which applies) until harvest.  If you’re in an area with cooler summers and short growing seasons, look for varieties having the fewest days to harvest.

Look for All-America Selections winning flowers and vegetables to try.  These are the best of the new seed-grown varieties, and you’ll often need to start the newest ones from seeds yourself in order to have them.  A couple of new 2016 winning vegetables are Chef’s Choice green tomato, and Candyland red tomato.  The latter is a currant-type tomato, meaning fruit are even smaller than cherry tomatoes.  Other winning vegetables to check out are Sweet Baby radish, Super Moon (of course white) pumpkin, Japanese Red Kingdom mustard, Bunching Warrior onion, and two golden-yellow frying peppers.

New flower winners for 2016 in the All-America Selections program include Brocade Cherry Night geranium, with large cherry-pink semi-double blooms; Brocade Cherry Fire also has semi-double blooms only in orange, and with tri-colored leaves; and Summer Jewel Lavender salvia is the fourth winning color in this series of upright flowering sages. 

Flamingo flower often just goes by its scientific name of anthurium (say an-THUR-ee-um).  This is an easy houseplant tolerating low light, only with fewer if any flowers there.  Ideal is bright, indirect light.  Too much direct sun and the leaves may get bleached out or “burn”.  They like a moist soil, but not wet.  If in doubt, don’t water.  Generally red and heart-shaped, the flowers are a good fit for Valentine’s Day.  Actually, these “flowers” are modified leaves called “spathes”.  The “spadix” or central column has the real, but inconspicuous, flowers.

Other gardening activities for this month include bringing any potted spring bulbs that you’re forcing from cold  into warmth, cleaning bird feeders and heated bird baths, checking seed starting supplies, sharpening pruning tools, sowing begonias and onions (and their relatives) indoors, and buying some Valentine flowers for special people in your life.

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

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