The seed catalogues have arrived and the snow is piled high. It's time to dream about spring. Think about diversifying your garden this year by ordering some of the hundreds of wonderful heirloom vegetable varieties. Note the date when stored and canned vegetable crops are completely consumed and plan accordingly. In late January get your seed-starting equipment ready and start hardy greens and cold tolerant flowers like pansies and primulas. Improve your seed germination with a heat source such as an electric heating mat. Nearly every type of garden plant germinates faster and better with a week or two of 80 to 90 degree soil temperatures. Indoor house plants and window gardens typically need less water and fertilizer this time of year since growth slows down with shorter winter days. Outside, shovel snow onto perennials to help protect them from harsh winter conditions.
North Central and Rockies
If snuggling in with seed catalogs fails to satisfy on dark winter days, try growing fresh herbs or greens indoors. Success will depend on providing enough light-a south-facing window is usually not enough. Instead, use florescent lights and keep the tubes as close to the plants as possible. An inexpensive timer is handy to turn on the lights for 12 to 16 hours a day. Start a few extra-early tomatoes and peppers in January, picking varieties that can be container-grown so they can be brought inside or protected during chilly spring nights. (See Page 52 for more seed-- starting tips.)
Start seeds now for hardy vegetable transplants for a late winter garden. Outside, protect winter crops of lettuce, greens and hardy coles with floating row covers or a cloche system. Keep harvesting and thinning the root vegetables and notice how sweet and flavorful they are this time of year, with sugars and nutrients concentrated in the roots. Be alert to a break in January weather and plant your early peas, selecting enation virus-resistant varieties. Celebrate the start of a new year with a generous clipping of flowering quince or other early spring flowering shrubs for forcing. if it's been cold and dry let the branches soak in slightly warm water for an hour. Soon bouquets of colorful swelling buds announce spring is just around the corner.
Snow and hard frost challenge gardeners located above 4,000 feet, but most Southwest areas below 3,000 feet are great winter garden territory. Vegetables to plant now include broccoli, root crops, greens, onions and onion sets, rhubarb roots, lettuce, peas, fava beans, potatoes, garlic and shallots. Winter is the prime time to transplant bare-root fruit trees and establish hardy perennial plantings. Native perennial bunchgrasses are beautiful and drought resistant for drier parts of California and the Southwest. Incorporating these grasses, native wildflowers and other drought-- adapted perennial plants into your landscape will preserve scarce water resources and make yard work much easier. In the low desert, gardeners can start thinking about starting eggplants, peppers and tomatoes indoors. Hot pepper fans may want to try the orange manzano or rocoto pepper from South America-a new variety especially adapted to the region. It's an ornamental plant with dark green, fuzzy leaves, blue flowers and orange, thick-fleshed, juicy-hot, apple-shaped fruit.