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I am often asked what horticulturists (and hobby horticulturists) do during the winter. In northern Utah, January is a slow month. However, there are still things to do. A few tasks include:
•Sorting stored seeds and discarding old seed stock
•Looking at the yard and planning what new plants may be needed, which older plants may need to be removed, and hardscape changes to be made
•Planning how much and where to plant
•Ordering or purchasing new seeds
•Pruning shade trees
It is a great time to sort through seeds purchased from previous years. Flower and vegetable seeds last for different periods of time. For example, parsley only lasts for a year, while squash and watermelon are good for up to five years when stored at room temperature at low humidity. The Utah State University publication "Collecting and Storing Seeds from Your Garden" has a list of how long various seeds last.It also explains a simple method of testing germination percentages of suspect seed. See the related links tab
Even though snow is on the ground, it is a great time to make plans for the yard. There is always an old, overgrown shrub that needs to be removed or an area that could use a new path because of excessive foot traffic killing the lawn. Knowing what you are going to do helps determine what a project may cost and what to purchase later on.
It's a good idea to know what you want to plant before showing up at the local garden center in the spring. Sort through garden catalogs for ideas, and visit a local Extension office or garden center during the winter to determine if your selections are suited to your needs. Invariably, everything that you want will not be available. Have a backup plan. Additionally, for both flowers and vegetables, do not plant the same species in the same place as the previous year. Repeatedly doing so causes a buildup of diseases and pests.
If you start your own seeds, knowing how many seeds to plant and when can be difficult. My personal rule of thumb is to plant 20 to 30 percent more than I am going to use in flowerbeds and my garden. The leftovers can be composted or given to a neighbor.
Pruning is a frequent topic of the KSL Greenhouse Show. The "take home" message we give is to prune as little as possible, know when to prune, and learn the basics before starting. Mid-January is when shade trees are at their most dormant and the safest time to prune many of them. Prune out dead, diseased and problematic branches. Shade trees generally do not need to be "opened up" for the sake of doing so. This process can make the pruner feel good. However, to get revenge, the tree is more likely to create much more unwanted growth than was already there. Do not remove more than 20 percent of the canopy in a given year. For more information concerning pruning shade trees, see the related links tab.