Time to force your hand
Bring in branches of forsythia, pussy willow, wisteria, lilac, apple, peach and pear for bits of spring bloom in winter. It’s not necessary to smash the stems as once believed. Just make fresh cuts, put them in tepid water and bring them into a warm room. Trim the cut ends every two days to keep them fresh.
If you have the right light situation (growing lights), you can start perennials from seed now. You will have to take care of them carefully for several months, but starting now may mean that you will have blooms the first year. Try delphinium, shasta daisy, coreopsis, Jupiter’s beard, maltese cross and others.
Plan vegetable garden
Make plans for vegetable seeding indoors. Get your schedule figured out so you don’t miss the opportunity to start plants at exactly the right time. Don’t, however, start too early or you will end up with leggy plants that might be set back when planted.
Plant your windowsills
Build plant shelves for your outdoor or indoor windowsills. Hardware stores and salvage yards have varying types of shelf brackets or you can design and cut your own with a band saw. Fasten a sturdy box to the brackets. Outdoors, drill holes in the box. Indoors, make sure you have a leakproof liner.
Check for rot in storage
Check your winter storage for any signs of rot on stored bulbs, fruits or vegetables. Discard any that are shriveled or have an off-odor. Make sure you have adequate humidity and the right temperature for each type of plant. If necessary, sprinkle water to increase the humidity.
Do some early pruning
Take advantage of January or February thaws to get a jump on pruning. When outdoors in the cold, make note of which plants need pruning and take a good look at their architecture. Then, when you have a 45 degree tolerable day, get out and make a few cuts to cut down on spring chores.
Start cold season crops
Get out your calendar and count back 4-6 weeks from your last frost date. That is the set out date for onions, leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale and Brussels sprouts. Then count back eight weeks for the date to plant onion and leek seeds indoors. Count back 5-7 weeks to start seeds for the cole crops.
Watch for heaving
This is the time of year when we begin having intermittent thaws, so keep an eye on your perennials. If the roots have been heaved out of the ground by freezing and thawing, gently push them back in when the ground is somewhat thawed. Use your hands, not your feet, to avoid damaging them.
Watch for early bulbs
Sometimes during several days of thawing or warming up, early bulbs will begin to show. If this is still early enough that you can assume many more days of freezing weather, pull mulch over the tops of the bulbs. About two inches is deep enough, and it should be loose such as straw or shredded leaves.
Grapes are best pruned now in order to avoid having the cuts bleed sap. Choose a specific type of training if you’ve not already done so and prune according to the recommendations for the method. This usually means selecting a central cane, and removing many shoots and buds to make the plant vigorous.
Dormant oil application
Whenever you have a day above 45 degrees and a night that remains above freezing, be ready to spray dormant oil. This takes care of a good deal of insects that overwinter on bark and in branch crotches, especially on fruit trees. Spray carefully to avoid drift and be sure to use the correct dilution.
Try “garbage gardening”
Plant the top of a pineapple or carrot in a dish of water, plant onions that are sprouting for an attractive spiky plant, put an avocado in a plastic bag wrapped in a damp paper towel. As soon as it roots, plant it in soil for an interesting tree.
Check out equipment while the weather is cold.
Make sure you have your cold frame ready to go out. Check row covers for holes; make sure you have frames and clamps (clothes pins work well) to put out on your early cole crops. Start collecting milk jugs and juice bottles to serve as hot caps and waterers.
Get rid of early weeds
Spread out old hay and manure on the soil and cover with black plastic. Any weed seeds will sprout as soon as there is a little sun, and die from frost and lack of light under the plastic. Then it is ready to dig under or pull back to serve as mulch later in the season.
Plan a plant exchange luncheon with friends
It won’t be long before it’s time to divide perennials, and if you have a date set, you can do your garden chores with the exchange in mind. Be sure to save pots and labels for the giveaways.
Pot up extra seedlings for friends
As seedlings under lights get ready for transplanting into larger pots, keep in mind friends as well. Pot up and label extras for the plant exchange. Collect plastic bags, boxes and other containers to transport the seedlings in case the weather is cold on your exchange day.