University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article

CLEANING BIRD FEEDERS AND OTHER JANUARY GARDENING TIPS

 
Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
 
Cleaning bird feeders, checking houseplants for insects, and propagating African violets are some of the gardening tips for this month.
           
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 (one part bleach to nine parts water). Rinse thoroughly.
           
If you have a heated bird bath (a good idea if you don't), make sure to clean it every few days too.  I have an old brush just for this purpose.  Don't use your kitchen one that is used on eating surfaces.  Of course these can just be cleaned outdoors when filling them.
           
If you've noticed disease in the past on plants near your bird feeder, particularly if infected parts are covered with white fluffy growth, the problem could be a fungus that's contained in sunflower seeds. In addition, sunflower seed hulls themselves can impede the growth of certain plants, so to be on the safe side, move your feeder away from your gardens. If that's not possible, periodically clean up any seeds and hulls around the base of the feeder and destroy them.  Spring is a good time to do this with a rake, shovel, and wheelbarrow.
           
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). Use a mild detergent, or weak solution, so not to damage the plant leaf surfaces.  In severe cases, spray the plant with insecticidal soap or similar insecticide for indoors.

If that geranium or coleus you're overwintering inside has sent out spindly new shoots, keep trimming it back until the increased sunlight can support sturdier growth. If you have low light, keeping the plant in a cooler location (50 to 60 degrees F) may help.
           
To get off to a clean start with seed starting this year, disinfect flats and pots in soapy water with bleach added: one part bleach to nine parts water. The longer you can soak them, the better. Then rinse well. Be sure to scrub off any soil before this disinfecting rinse.
           
Now is a good time to repot any houseplants with roots coming out of the drainage holes. Choose a pot one size larger than the current pot, remove the plant, trim any roots that are too long, and repot using fresh potting soil.
           
African violets are easy to propagate by leaf cuttings. Snip off a leaf, dip the cut end in a rooting hormone powder (available at garden stores), and stick the cutting in a pot filled with vermiculite or sand. Cover the pot with a perforated clear plastic bag and keep the soil moist. In a few weeks you'll have new plants, which you can pot up separately.
           
Orchid flowers are favorite hiding spots for mealybugs, and scale insects favor the flower stalks and undersides of leaves. Inspect each flower closely, especially the backside where it attaches to the flower stem. Remove insects with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
            

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