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Gardeners Checklist: Here Is What to Do on the Week of Feb. 5

Gardeners Checklist: Here Is What to Do on the Week of Feb. 5

By Ron Kujawski

• Start a few seeds of parsley, basil, cilantro, marjoram, and summer savory. Yes, it is early to be starting these annual herbs for the garden, but these are not for the garden. These are for growing indoors in pots this winter and early spring. We use these particular herbs a lot in our cooking and don’t want to wait until June or later to enjoy fresh herbs. Of course, once the seeds germinate, give seedlings plenty of light for best development. 

• Include zinnias on your flower seed shopping list. Zinnias are not only versatile plants, because of their many sizes, flower forms and colors, but they are the perfect flowers to use when trying to interest children in gardening. The seeds are large and easy to handle, and are quick to germinate whether planted directly in the garden in late May or started indoors in late April. Kids will like the fact that zinnias bloom all summer and into fall. They also make great cut flowers.

• Spend a little time with your garden tools. Use a wire brush to remove dirt and rust from metal surfaces. Treat wooden handles with linseed oil. Repair or replace worn or damaged parts such as the blades on pruning shears.

• Cut some branches from pussy willow, forsythia, crabapples, red maples, fragrant viburnums, and other spring flowering woody plants for forcing indoors.

• Use a mist sprayer to give your tropical houseplants a shot of fine mist a couple of times a day. These plants are native to humid environments, and humidity levels are typically very low in our heated homes during the winter months.

• Place a few quarter-inch thick slices of potato on the surface of soil of potted plants infested by fungus gnats. Fungus gnats are tiny dark-color flies often seen flitting about in the vicinity of houseplants. However, the flies themselves are not much of a problem, other than being a nuisance. It is the white worm-like larvae of the fungus gnat that do the most damage, feeding on the roots of plants. So, what’s with the potato slices? Fungus gnat larvae are attracted to the potato and feed on the slices. After several days, the larvae infested slices can be discarded. This treatment should be repeated weekly until there are no longer any signs of either the larvae or the adult flies. Another strategy to control fungus gnats is to remove the top two inches of larvae-infested soil from the pots and replace with fresh soil. A control method I use most often is the yellow sticky card (available at garden centers). The card is attached to a short stake stuck into the potting soil with the card an inch or two above the soil. The adult gnats, attracted by the yellow color, fly to the card where they get stuck to the stickum on the card. Over time, with the egg-laying adults removed, the larvae will also be eliminated.

Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service. He serves on Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Horticulture Advisory Committee. His book, Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook, is available here.

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