Do a Paper Towel Germination Test
Check on the viability of stored seeds before planting. Place ten seeds on a moistened paper towel. Fold the towel over and roll it into a moderately tight tube. Label and date. Place the tube upright in a closed jar or sealable plastic bag. Add a little water to the container to keep the seeds moist and set in a warm place (75 to 85 degrees F). In three days, open the towel to count and remove the germinating seeds. Make additional counts every three to four days for up to 15 to 20 days. If five seeds germinate, that's a 50 percent germination rate. If the germination rate is below 50 percent, it's best to start with fresh seeds.
Protect Grafted and Specialty Roses with Mulch
Grafted hybrid teas, English, Romantica, and David Austin roses are among those that benefit from a buffer against winter cold and frost heave. After the soil freezes, mound loose, organic mulch (shredded leaves, root mulch, hardwood mulch) over the base of the rose plant. Cover the crown (where canes meet soil) and up the canes to about 6 inches. Carefully remove mulch in spring when the rose greens up.
Water Newly Planted Trees and Shrubs
Woody plants, especially those newly planted last year, need water, even during winter. Roots without moisture can dehydrate and die. Take advantage of the warm spells. Generously water newly planted shrubs and trees to keep their roots healthy.
Swags, pine boughs and wreaths, and evergreen branches are winter gifts for your garden. Place them over areas planted with spring bulbs and on containers. They'll help buffer plant crowns and potential bulb sprouts from the cold. Remove in spring after threat of hard frost, when it's safe for bulbs to poke through the soil.
Remove Tree Gators
During winter, moisture and insects can accumulate and cause damage under plastic Tree Gators. Insects and small gnawing wildlife may destroy bark when they take shelter between the Gator and tree bark. Empty, unzip, and remove the gator. Store, then bring out for spring and summer use.