Upper South

January, 2007
Regional Report

Light Up

The only sure way to get the vegetable and flower varieties that you want is by starting the seed yourself. Without a greenhouse or that oft-recommended bright light, the use of fluorescent lights can ensure success. The setup can be as simple as a utility fixture or as complicated as a multi-tier unit. For best results, the light fixtures should be height adjustable. If you don't want to invest in wide- or full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs, which provide the best light but are pricey, then use warm white and cool white fluorescent tubes in combination.

Plant a Terrarium

The higher humidity maintained in a terrarium gives you the opportunity to grow plants that might otherwise be difficult, such as miniature orchids or some of the more unusual gesneriads. Even if you use houseplants that don't require the rainforest atmosphere, the creativity involved in designing the miniature landscape is a fun wintertime project. An abandoned fish bowl is an easy starting point, or move up to a watertight aquarium. Put in a layer of gravel for drainage, and use a high-quality potting mix.

Add Tools and Supplies

As you pore over seed and nursery catalogs this winter, be sure to also look at the tool and supply sections in them, as well as the catalogs that specialize in these items. There are dozens of things that make gardening easier or increases the chances of success. Especially look at items that conserve water, battle pests or weeds organically, or reduce waste, such as the tool that makes seed-starting pots from newspaper. Ordering items now means that you'll have them on hand and be ready to go when the time is right.

Prune Trees and Shrubs

Both ornamental and fruit-producing dormant trees and shrubs can be pruned any time from now until late winter. Although there are specific methods for pruning different plants, in general you want to remove crisscrossing growth as well as older stems on shrubs to make room for new growth. Go to books, catalogs, and online sites for information about your specific plants. Always use sharp saws and pruning shears so that cuts are clean. You don't need to paint or seal the cuts.

Visit a Conservatory

Many public gardens have a conservatory, a fancy name for an elaborate greenhouse used for an indoor landscape rather than production. Winter is the ideal time to visit, as these gardens transport us to a warm, lush tropical world. They usually feature large tropicals, such as palms and bananas, as well as flowering plants, most notably orchids. Often, conservatories have themed shows, with special plant exhibits that change with the seasons. So if a trip south isn't on your agenda, visit a conservatory instead.

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