What should you be planting in the garden right now? Try these plants

1. Now is the time to plant seeds or nursery-grown seedlings of artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, potatoes, radishes, Swiss chard, and turnips. To speed up seed germination, procure a seedling heating mat (for around $15). To further enhance speedy germination, place some sort of dome over your seedling containers to retain moisture. A nice holiday gift for the gardener in your life is a kit comprised of a heating mat, plastic dome, and multi-cell germination tray. One such kit goes by the name of Jump Start Germination Station. It includes a germination tray of 72 cells and is available through online vendors for $26.50. When planting seeds or transplanting seedlings into the garden, beware of cutworms, which are not actually worms. Cutworm is a generic term that refers to the larval stage or caterpillar of several different moth species. Cutworms are infrequently seen since they hide under garden debris or under the soil surface during the day and come out at night. They may be grey, brown, green or yellow and curl up into a C-shape when disturbed. They kill seedlings by cutting them down at the stem. Some cutworms devour the entire seedling while others simply move from one seedling to the next, content with toppling one seedling after the next by chewing through their stems, wreaking havoc throughout a vegetable patch. Cutworm control is rendered by placing a collar around each seedling. Paper or plastic cups, as well as ring-shaped sections cut from plastic bottles may be employed as collars.

2. You can grow an herb garden on a sunny window sill as long as six hours of daily sunlight are available. A southern exposure is recommended. However, you can readily supplement light for herbs and for any other plants grown indoors with gooseneck grow lights, available online for $10-20. When utilizing grow lights, keep them 6-12 inches above your plants and have them lit for 14-16 hours each day. Dry indoor air during winter can adversely affect herbs and other indoor plants. For this reason, it is advisable to group them closely together to increase ambient humidity.  Growing them in dishes filled with pebbles can also add to air moisture. Finally, humidifiers can make a big difference in creating the proper atmospheric conditions for plant growth, especially during winter. Quality single-room humidifiers are available online for around $25.

3. Consider planting bare-root grape vines this winter. They are much less expensive than container-grown grapevines, being available online for $12 at groworganic.com, for example. Make sure to prepare your soil so that it drains well to a depth of at least 18 inches. You will also want to create support for your vines since grapes will only produce crops when grown vertically up a trellis or connected to a pergola, fence, arbor or other structure. Bare-root plants are susceptible to drying out so it’s a good idea to soak the roots for 3-4 hours in a bucket of water prior to planting. Make your planting hole one and a half feet away from its support and at a 45-degree angle, leaning toward the support. Trim roots back to a length of six inches and bury the cane (grapevine trunk) so that its lowest bud is just above the soil surface. Spread out the roots in the hole before filling it with a mix that can contain up to 30% compost. Water to the point of soil saturation and cover the ground around your vine with a three-inch layer of mulch. 

4. Bare-root roses may also be planted at this time. There is some controversy as to whether the bud union, where the scion variety meets the rootstock, should be planted below or above the soil line. Many noteworthy rosarians such as those who hybridize and market David Austin roses, as well as those at the “Fine Gardening” magazine and website (finegardening.com), advocate for burying the bud union about an inch below the soil surface. There are three reasons advanced for recommending this practice. When the bud union is buried, fewer suckers form at the base of the plant, there is less wind rock (when plants rock in the wind and soil is loosened around roots), and roots will also grow out of the scion (so-called “own roots”) which, in some varieties, are supposedly stronger and healthier than rootstock roots. The American Rose Society, on the other hand, maintains that rose blooms are larger when the graft union is above ground and that some scion varieties do not grow as well on their own roots. As in many areas of horticulture, there is no consensus where the bud union should be situated once a grafted rose bush is planted. One way around this dilemma is to plant roses grown on their own roots exclusively. At heirloomroses.com, all plants are grown from cuttings and no grafting is involved in their production.

5. Some grocery produce can be stretched for its nutritional potential. To get the most out of your carrots, beets, and turnips, don’t throw away their top pieces. Plant the tops in containers of potting soil or in a shallow tray of water and watch them sprout edible greens. There are numerous recipes for incorporating these greens into soups, salads, and other dishes. With celery, you can grow more foliage by cutting off the bottom two inches of a bunch and placing it in an inch or two of water. Within a few days, you will see new foliage begin to grow.  The bottom pieces of onions, often with a few little roots attached, are typically discarded but can be used productively. Plant them in a container of potting soil and you will soon have a forest of onion greens growing up for culinary purposes. You can also get more Romaine lettuce leaves to grow after removing all the leaves except for their bottom couple of inches and plunging the white base of the head into several inches of water. You will see more Romaine leaves start to grow soon enough. 

Please send questions, comments, and photos to joshua@perfectplants.com

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