Garden ideas to get us through winter

Posted on: January 31, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Winter is tough for gardeners, as the season drags on, the gardening itch becomes more intense. Here’s a few ideas to get you through until spring.
Even though temperatures outside are dipping below 30 degrees, the late afternoon sun streaming through a large picture window has little radish sprouts standing tall.

The Chefn Microgreen Grower Kit is an easy way to grow sprouts on the windowsill.

The Chefn Microgreen Grower Kit is an easy way to grow sprouts on the windowsill. These radish greens are ready in just about a week.

Discovering the Chefn Microgreen Grower Kit has made the season much more fun as I can still plant and harvest something. It comes with everything needed to sprout seeds and enjoy the microgreens in only a week or even less. It couldn’t be easier: just add water to the peat pellet, shake the seeds into the planting mix, push them in and then put the plastic cover over the grower.
The first seeds I planted were radishes and they went nuts. They germinate in only few days and are harvested by just cutting them with some scissors. They are good in salads, on sandwiches and in many other recipes. The grower fits perfectly on a windowsill and has kept me busy doing what I love. After the first harvest, a standard planting mix can be used for the next plantings. Microgreens are highly nutritious and surprisingly tasty. The radish greens were a hit at a recent dinner added to a cracker covered in cream cheese and a thin slice of salmon. Besides radishes, try basil, sunflower seeds, mixed greens, alfalfa, arugula, lettuce, other greens, carrots, cole crops like kale, beets, cilantro, turnips and many others. I’m replanting every couple weeks because the sprouts are so good. It’s also a great way to use up some old seeds.
Houseplants are another thing that keeps me happy and busy during the cold. They have become popular and now there are more colorful versions of some old favorites. Philodendron ‘Prince of Orange’ is a star in the windowsill with its pretty orange leaves that fade to deep purple.
The key to keeping houseplants happy is to keep them on the dry side. Just stick a finger three inches down in the soil, and if it’s dry, give the plant some water. These plants don’t just produce oxygen, they also help clean the air. For them to best do that job, be sure the leaves are clean. Just wiping them down with a wet paper towel will keep them happy.
If the soil stays wet, fungus gnats can be a problem. One solution is to let the pot dry out, but even then the gnats can persist. BTI, short for Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, is an organic control for both mosquito larvae and fungus gnat larvae but is harmless to other living things. (summitchemical.com)
It’s still too early to fertilize the plants because the days aren’t long enough for them to use the nutrients. Wait until the end of this month or early in March to begin fertilizing. I use a liquid organic concentrate from Espoma called Grow. It’s safe and filled with everything the plants need.

Amaryllis 'Double King' puts on quite a show. Amaryllis bulbs are a popular gift for the holidays. They have everything they need to bloom and can be kept as houseplants to enjoy the flowers annually for many years.

Amaryllis ‘Double King’ puts on quite a show. Amaryllis bulbs are a popular gift for the holidays. They have everything they need to bloom and can be kept as houseplants to enjoy the flowers annually for many years.

Amaryllis bulbs can still be found and there’s nothing like the beautiful blooms that arrive several weeks after the bulbs are put into a pot. They are carefree, providing huge, pretty flowers when they are needed most. They can be found at nurseries and garden centers.
Get your tools in shape before the season begins. A sharp tool makes garden chores easier and they’ll last longer, too. For decades I’ve used the AccuSharp tool to keep shovels, hoes, trowels and other tools sharp.

The AccuSharp tool will get shovels, hoes, trowels and more sharp for the season.

The AccuSharp tool will get shovels, hoes, trowels and more sharp for the season.

For wooden handles, coat them with boiled linseed oil to keep them supple and from drying out.
The other thing I do this time of the year is plant a windowsill herb planter. Local greenhouses have herbs available and most will be happy growing indoors. Oregano, chives, thyme, sage, rosemary, basil, mint and many others are easy to grow. When things warm up in the spring, they planter will produce outside all season long.
This is also the time to order seeds. Check your old seed viability by putting seeds in between a wet paper towel and then insert that into a sealed plastic bag. In a week see how many have sprouted. If it’s below 50 percent, put them in the compost and order another packet. There’s a complete list of seed sources, created by Tribune-Review and Everybody Gardens readers available at everybodygardens.com. There are more than 60 great sources, and if you don’t see your favorite, let me know, I’ll add it for you.
During a thaw, walk the garden to discover what should be added and where. This is the time to examine the bones of the landscape and dream about planting when the weather breaks.

Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or doster@535mediallc.com. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.

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Doug Oster is manager and editor of Everybody Gardens with a passion for gardening and a love of sharing is experiences with other gardeners. You will also find Doug’s gardening contributions in the Tribune-Review each week. He’s an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer. Oster is co-host of The Organic Gardeners Radio show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Oster’s Outstanding Documentary Emmy was awarded for Gardens of Pennsylvania, a one hour special he conceived and produced for the PBS affiliate WQED. Doug appears every Thursday morning on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today live at 9 a.m. “Gardening is fun, he says, enjoy every day spent outside tending vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees.”