Gather ideas for spring
-- Start spring planning. Just about the time you put away the Christmas tree, the seed catalogs will start hitting your mailbox. Enjoy the chance to begin your grand plans for warmer weather. Supplement the lists of new products with ideas from garden books and magazines.
-- Corral your ideas into a garden notebook that will be handy for toting to the garden center come spring. Dedicate pages for notes and photos of favorite ideas. Include pocket folders for articles and notes, and a zip pocket to hold spring receipts and plant labels.
-- Make online and mail-order purchases early. Supplies of the most popular items tend to start running out in March or so.
Primp indoor plants
-- Boost humidity around houseplants. It's one of the best things you can give them this time of year. Misting doesn't help, but a tray filled with pebbles and a quarter inch or so of water will be most appreciated. Also, turn up your humidifier as high as you can (without creating condensation on windows). Both people and plants will feel better for it!
-- Evaluate houseplants. If they're struggling, it's probably time to pitch them and replace them as needed. Otherwise, give plants a good rinse in the kitchen sink or shower, trim off brown or problem parts, and top off the soil with fresh potting mix. But don't fertilize houseplants this month. With less daylight, their need for food is reduced.
Care for bulbs and seeds
-- Check on bulbs that you are forcing. Keep soil lightly moist. And once the bulbs have sent up shoots a half-inch to 1 inch high, take them out and put them in the sunniest, brightest spot possible.
-- Check on bulbs or corms you dug up and have in storage. If you dug up some tender bulbs last fall to store over the winter, uncover and examine them. They should be firm and healthy looking. If any are shriveled or mildewed, pitch them now.
-- Start seeds of slower-growing plants, such as parsley and onions. Don't be tempted to start other seeds too early (follow label directions or read on up on them online). If you jump the gun on planting seeds, the seedlings will languish indoors too long without the powerful natural sun and get leggy and diseased. The vast majority of seeds should be started 6 to 8 weeks before your region's last average frost date. For most of the Midwest, that means starting seeds in March.
A few outdoor chores
-- Keep walks and plants safe. Instead of sodium chloride rock salt for your icy walks and drives, use calcium chloride, sand or even kitty litter. It's less harmful to concrete and plants.
-- Mulch with snow. Perennials love snow. When shoveling, as long as the snow doesn't have salt in it and isn't slushy, don't worry about tossing it onto perennials and small shrubs. Fluffy snow insulates against weather extremes.
-- Evaluate your landscape for winter interest. Note good places to plant native grasses, evergreens or shrubs with interesting bark in the spring.