Take a Tropical Vacation
Those of us who can't book a cruise to the South Seas can visit a local greenhouse instead. Check out garden centers, universities and colleges, and public gardens with greenhouse facilities open to the public. Enjoy the warmth and lush greenery on a dreary winter's day and come home with some new ideas and maybe even a houseplant or two!
Remove Snow Gently from Shrubs and Trees
Heavy snow can weigh down and break branches of woody plants, especially evergreens. But be careful not to do damage when removing it. Gently brush off most of the snow with a broom, then lift up branches from below to dislodge the rest. If branches are encrusted with ice, it's best to let the ice thaw on its own.
Check Viability of Stored Seeds
Check the viability of seeds saved from previous seasons by conducting a germination test. Spread out ten seeds on a moistened paper towel and top with another damp towel. Roll the towels up together and slip inside a loosely closed plastic bag. Stick a label in the bag or write on the outside of the bag with a waterproof marker. Set it in a warm (75 degrees F) spot and, after a few days, begin checking daily for signs of germination; check the seed packet for average germination times. To figure out the germination percentage, simply multiply the number of seeds that sprout by ten. If fifty percent or fewer sprout, it's a good idea to get some fresh seeds. If the germination rate is in the 60-80 per cent range, use the seeds, but sow them more thickly than usual.
Check for Overwintering Insects on Trees and Shrubs
Take a tour around the garden on a mild winter day and nip insect problems in the bud. Look for the tan egg masses of gypsy moths on the trunks and branches of trees, especially oaks; scrape them off and destroy them. If you see the stick-covered "bags" of bagworms on arborvitae and junipers, remove them to destroy overwintering eggs. The egg masses of Eastern tent caterpillars are most often found on apples, crabapples, cherries and hawthorns. Prune out and destroy the shiny, black, iridescent egg cases that encircle small twigs. For pictures of what to look for, see these fact sheets from UMass Extension: Gypsy Moth (http://www.umassgreeninfo.org/fact_sheets/defoliators/gypsey_moth.html); Bagworm (http://www.umassgreeninfo.org/fact_sheets/defoliators/bagworm.html); Eastern tent caterpillar (http://www.umassgreeninfo.org/fact_sheets/defoliators/eastern_tent_catepillar.html).
Gather Supplies for Seed Starting
Gather all your seed-starting supplies now so you'll be ready when it's time to begin sowing. Stock up on germinating and potting mixes, containers, labels and indelible markers. If you don't already own them, consider investing in a heat mat to speed germination and a small fan to increase air circulation around seedlings. If you plan to grow under lights and are in the market for new fixtures, consider buying the newer, more energy-efficient T-5 fluorescent grow lights.