In the Garden:
New England
January, 2006
Regional Report

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Winter is a time for cleaning up the potting shed and then lounging with an inspiring gardening book.

Winter Exercise for Your Green Thumb

Whew, the holidays are behind us and we can breathe easier. Now we have time for taking a walk through the snow instead of dashing through the mall. This is the time of year when gardeners in colder climes are itching for new beginnings, yet planting time is weeks away. So to keep ourselves occupied until then, here are some ways we can exercise our mental and physical green thumbs so we're ready for spring.

1. Take at least a 15-minute walk every day -- in your garden, near your office -- wherever. This is especially important when the sun is out so you'll get some vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium. In summer we get plenty of weight-bearing exercise -- digging and lugging, and planting -- to help build our bones, but in winter we tend to slack off.

2. Buy flowers for someone. Flowers lift the spirits -- research even validates this. Several studies at Rutgers University found that a gift of flowers had an immediate effect on happiness, a long-term effect on mood, and increased the recipient's connections with family and friends. You can even give a bouquet every month with a gift certificate to a local florist.

3. Buy flowers for yourself. You need them, too!

4. Buy a new indoor plant to clear the air. Fumes from cleaning products, fibers from carpets and draperies, bacteria and fungi -- all can pollute the air in your home and office. Certain plants have the ability to absorb these pollutants from the air and turn them into food for soil microbes. Some of the top air-cleaning plants, according to NASA scientists, are rubber plants, weeping figs, English ivies, Boston ferns, pothos, and peace lilies.

5. Collect ideas for a new garden. This is prime time for new gardening books and magazines to hit the shelves. Spend an hour in a bookstore perusing tempting titles and take notes. Buy magazines and cut out photos that inspire you. Make a folder with notes and pictures for each project, even if it's a year or two away.

6. Visit an arboretum or park or public garden to get ideas for enhancing your winter landscape. Every fence and arbor adds interest when covered with snow, and weeping trees look especially elegant. You'll also convince yourself to add some more shrubs with berries, such as winterberries; and colorful bark, such as red-twig and yellow-twig dogwoods.

7. Begin sorting seeds from last year and do a germination test to see if they're fresh enough to plant this year. Place 10 seeds of a variety in a moistened paper towel, fold the towel and put it in a sealable plastic bag. Place the bag in a warm location. Unfold after two weeks and see how many seeds have germinated. Fewer than 8 means you should buy new seed or plan to sow thickly to get enough seedlings.

8. Get tools ready for late-winter pruning. Sharpen pruners and loppers, or invest in new ones, if needed. Consult books for proper techniques for different plants.

9. Give indoor plants a close inspection to check for mealybugs, scale, spider mites, and aphids. Mild cases of scale and mealybugs can be removed with Q-tips dipped in alcohol. Heavier infestations may require spraying with horticultural oil, or else say goodbye to the plant. Spider mites can be washed off in the shower or in a sink full of soapy water. Mild cases of aphids can be handled the same way, but they may require insecticidal soap spray. All plants benefit from a shower to wash off dust and dirt. Hold off on fertilizing any plants with insect problems because succulent new growth is especially appetizing to them.

10. Buy some gardening calendars on sale and hang them all around the house to let the luscious photos inspire you. But steer clear of those depressing British versions with their to-die-for photos and monthly lists of things you could be doing if only you lived in a more hospitable climate ("I could be planting roses now if only ... ").


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