Monthly Tips and Tasks

  • To clean heavily encrusted clay pots, scrub them with a steel wool pad after they have soaked overnight in a solution consisting of one gallon water to which one cup of white vinegar has been added. After the deposits are removed rinse the pots in clear water. A brief soak in a solution of one gallon of water to which one cup household bleach has been added will help sanitize the pots.
  • Some plants are sensitive to the fluorine and chlorine in tap water. Water containers should stand overnight to allow these gases to dissipate before using on plants.
  • Wash the dust off of houseplant leaves on a regular basis. This allows the leaves to gather light more efficiently and will result in better growth.
  • Set the pots of humidity-loving houseplants on trays filled with pebbles and water. Pots should sit on the pebbles, not in the water.
  • Allow tap water to warm to room temperature before using on houseplants.
  • Fluffy, white mealy bugs on houseplants are easily killed by touching them with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol.
  • Insecticidal soap sprays can be safely applied to most houseplants for the control of many insect pests.
  • Quarantine new gift plants to be sure they do not harbor any insect pests.
  • Amaryllis aftercare: Remove spent flower after blooming. Set the plant in a bright sunny window to allow the leaves to fully develop. Keep the soil evenly moist, not soggy. Fertilize occasionally with a general purpose houseplant formulation.


  • Gently brush off heavy snows from tree and shrub branches.
  • Limbs damaged by ice or snow should be pruned off promptly to prevent bark from tearing.
  • Check stored summer bulbs such as dahlias, cannas and gladioli to be sure they are not rotting or drying out.
  • To reduce injury, allow ice to melt naturally from plants. Attempting to remove ice may damage plants further.
  • Use sand, bird seed, sawdust or vermiculite to gain traction on icy paths. Avoid salt or ice melters as these may injure plants.
  • Make an inventory of the plants in your home landscape. Note their location and past performance. Plan changes on paper now.
  • Sow pansy seeds indoors now.


  • Avoid foot traffic on frozen lawns as this may injure turf grasses.
  • Make a resolution to keep records of your garden this year.
  • Store wood ashes in sealed, fireproof containers. Apply a dusting around lilacs, baby's breath, asters, lilies and roses in spring. Do not apply to acid-loving plants. Excess ashes may be composted.
  • Check all fruit trees for evidence of rodent injury to bark. Use baits or traps where necessary.
  • Cakes of suet hung in trees will attract insect-hunting woodpeckers to your garden.
  • Make tools easier to locate in the garden by applying brightly colored paints to the handles.
  • Seed and nursery catalogs arrive. While reviewing garden catalogs, look for plants with improved insect, disease and drought-tolerance.
  • Old Christmas trees can be recycled outdoors as a feeding station for birds. String garlands of peanuts, popcorn, cranberries, fruits and suet through their boughs.
  • Christmas tree boughs can be used to mulch garden perennials.
  • If you didn't get your bulbs planted before the ground froze, plant them immediately in individual peat pots and place the pots in flats. Set them outside where it is cold and bury the bulbs under thick blankets of leaves. Transplant them into the garden any time weather permits.
  • Try sprouting a test sample of left over seeds before ordering new seeds for spring. (Roll up 10 seeds in a damp paper towel. Keep moist and warm. Check for germination in a week. If fewer than half sprout, order fresh seed.)
  • Swap seeds and plant information with your gardening friends.


January Pest and Problems

  • Continue to inspect indoor plants closely for insect pests such as aphids, spider mites, scale, and whitefly.
Click for larger image
Aphids - Indoors
Aphids (Hemiptera) are a common problem on indoor plants. Sticky honeydew on leaves is a common first sign that they are present. 

Spider Mites - Indoors
Spider mite infestation (Acari) on scarlet bush (Hamelia patens); note extensive webbing 

Scale Insects - Indoors
Close-up of scale (Hemiptera) on frond of kentia palm (Howia

  • Also check for whitefly, mealybugs and thrips. Treat if necessary.

Whitefly - Indoors
Whitefly (Hemiptera) on underside of fuchsia leaf (Fuchsia

Mealybug - Indoors
Mealybug (Hemiptera) colony on coleus (Solenostemon

Thrips - Indoors
Close-up of cuban laurel thrips (Thysanoptera) on leaves of a weeping fig (Ficus benjamina

  • Use salt with caution or not at all around plants or you risk causing salt damage. The damage may not be evident until late winter or early spring as temperatures warm.  

Salt Injury
Bleached foliage of euonymus (Euonymus) caused by salt spray 

Salt Injury
Close-up of bleached foliage of euonymus (Euonymus) caused by salt spray 

  • Examine herbaceous perennials for signs of plants being lifted out of the soil by frost heaving. Also make sure overwintering roses have ample protection for the coldest months of the year.  Winterizing Roses  Winter Injury: Frost Heaving
  • Damping off can be a problem on young seedlings. Also, insufficient light can result in spindly growth on seedling. Keep an eye out for fungus gnats.

Damping-off of snapdragon seedlings (Antirrhinum) caused by Rhizoctonia sp. Note constriction of stems at the soil line. R. K. Jones, NCSU, 

Fungus Gnats
Fungus gnat (Diptera) on fruit of ponderosa lemon (Citrus

  • Remove and dispose of the foliage of plants such as roses, peonies, iris, daylilies, apples, horsechestnut, which are subject to annual fungal leaf diseases.

Peony Blotch
Peony blotch on peony (Paeonia

Black Spot of Rose
Yellowing rose (Rosa) leaves with black spots are characteristic of black spot of rose 

Apple Scab
Yellowing leaves and spots caused by apple scab on crabapple (Malus

  • Scout for, remove, and dispose of bagworms and cedar-apple rust galls on junipers anytime now until spring. Also check arborvitae, spruce, crabapples, and oaks for bagworms.

Bagworm (Lepidoptera) on lilyturf (Liriope

Cedar-Apple Rust
Galls of cedar-apple rust on juniper (Juniperus

Cedar-Apple Rust
Cedar apple rust gall on eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana

  • Help prevent creating dead area in your lawn by refraining from walking over frozen lawn.
  • Stop fertilizing and reduce watering of indoor plants during winter. Uneven watering can result in oedema.

Close-up of ruptured cells on underside of indoor plant leaf caused by oedema 

Water droplets on underside of begonia leaf (Begonia) caused by oedema 

  • Heavy snow on trees and shrubs, especially evergreens can lead to breakage. Brush off snow carefully before it melts and refreezes and becomes difficult to remove. Allow ice to melt off naturally. Ice causes branches to become brittle and easily broken.  

Winter Injury: Frost Injury, Ice Damage
Ice damage on arborvitae (Thuja

Winter Injury: Frost Injury, Ice Damage
River birch (Betula nigra) broken by ice buildup 

  • Diseased branches in apples, pears, pyracantha and other plants in the rose family that were killed by fireblight can be safely removed in mid-winter. If not removed in winter, wait until dry weather in summer. Avoid pruning plants susceptible to fireblight during spring when the bacteria can easily enter cuts resulting from pruning.

Tip dieback on crabapple (Malus) caused by fireblight 

Fireblight canker and twig dieback on crabapple (Malus

Dead shoot on apple (Malus) showing droplets of the bacterial ooze caused by fireblight 

  • If overwintering dormant tender perennials or tropicals in a garage or basement monitor the temperature and moisture levels closely to avoid freezing, drying out or rotting due to overly wet, cold soil. Check stored bulbs for signs of desiccation or rotting.
  • Do not add wood ashes to your garden without first finding out area’s pH. Wood ashes raise soil pH at an approximate rate equal to 1/2 of an equivalent amount of lime.