Michigan Gardening To-Do List: February

February is not exactly a flurry of activity as far as gardening is concerned, but there are definitely a few things you can do this month to prepare for spring.

1. Get Ready for Seed Starting

There are a few things you can sow indoors now if you want an early spring crop (which I’ll list below) but the bulk of our seed starting will begin in March. Either way, it’s a good idea to find all of your flats, pots, humidity domes, lights, and other seed starting equipment. In addition:
Clean flats and pots (use a tiny bit of bleach, especially if you had pest or disease issues last year)
Make sure your lights are working, and get new lights if you need them.
Buy or make some seed starting mix.
Make sure you have the seeds you need. Most nurseries and big boxes have plenty of seeds out right now.

2. Start Some Seeds!

For a spring harvest, there are a few things you can sow indoors now:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Cabbage
  3. Kale
  4. Kohlrabi
  5. Leeks

3. Do some winter sowing.

There is still plenty of time to do some winter sowing. If you don’t have the space or inclination to start seeds for perennials indoors under lights, you can sow them right now, outside. You can also sow seeds for many annual flowers, herbs, and veggies this way. More on winter sowing here.

4. Houseplant Maintenance

I’ve noticed that my houseplants have already put on a bit of new growth in response to the lengthening days. If yours are rootbound, this is a good time to repot them into a slightly larger pot and give the fresh potting soil. You can also start fertilizing with a weak solution every week or so of compost tea now.

There isn’t a whole lot to do beyond those few tasks right now. If you have veggies growing under a low tunnel or in a cold frame, keep them watered and make sure to vent the structure on any warm, sunny days we may happen to get.

Enjoy the rest now. Next month, the real seed starting begins!(Hooray!)

Time to Sow Onion Seeds

February and early March are the perfect time to sow onion seeds indoors under lights here in Michigan. Growing onions from seeds rather than from sets gives you a lot more varieties to choose from as well as saving you quite a bit of money. Just make sure you choose a long day or and intermediate day variety if you are in zones 5-6.

Long Day Onions

Red Wing, Red Hawk, Bridger, Ailsa Craig, Cortland, Pontiac

Intermediate Day Onions

Walla Walla, Valencia, New York Early, Cabernet

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: January

amaryllisJanuary. The holidays are over, and a long, cold Michigan winter stretches before us. While some of us embrace winter, some of us are chomping at the bit to get back out into the garden.

The good news for those of us who are counting down the days until spring is that we can start growing several vegetables, herbs, and annuals indoors from seed this month. Below is a list of what you can start sowing now, depending on your approximate last spring frost date.

If your last spring frost is between April 15th and May 1st:
Herbs and Veggies:

  • Onions
  • Parsley
Annuals:

  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Lisianthus
  • Viola
If your last spring frost is between May 1st and May 15th:
Vegetables and Herbs:

  • None yet.
Annuals:

  • Delphiniums
If your last spring frost is between May 15th and June 1st:
Vegetable and Herbs:

  • None yet.
Annuals:

  • None yet.
If your last spring frost is after June 1st:
Vegetable and Herbs:

  • None yet.
Annuals:

  • None yet.

So, there’s not a ton going on yet, but spring will be in full swing before we know it. This is a good time to gather any seeds and seed-starting supplies you need so you’ll be ready to go when the time is right.

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: December

Photo credit: Borgtex

Here’s your garden to-do list for December:

Seed Starting

  • This month is generally when we begin winter sowing, as long as the weather is consistently below freezing. Even if you’re not able to wintersow yet, you can prepare  your containers and make sure you have plenty of seeds and soil.
  • Sow pansies indoors this month so you’ll have nice-sized plants ready to plant out in containers in March.

 

Herb/Vegetable Garden

  • Some years, we are still experiencing mild weather, even in December. If we are, chances are good that you still have a few things, such as kale, chard, mache, and carrots growing happily. Continue to water and harvest as needed.
  • If we’ve had a good freeze already, it’s time to sit back and dream of next year’s garden!

Perennials

  • Once the ground has frozen, use fall leaves or other organic matter to mulch perennials that are prone to frost-heaving.

Bulbs

  • As long as you can still find bulbs in the garden center, you can buy and plant them in containers for a beautiful display next spring. Simply plant the bulbs, then place the pot in a protected location such as an unheated garage, covered porch, or garden shed. This is an excellent way to add color to your garden next spring and take advantage of end-of-season bargains!

Trees and Shrubs

  • If the ground hasn’t frozen yet, make sure that you water if we’ve had a long period of drought.

Houseplants

  • Winter is our houseplants’ time to shine. Make sure yours are watered regularly and are getting the proper amount of light.
  • Watch out for pest problems.
  • Consider misting your plants once or twice a day, since dry, heated air in our homes can stress houseplants.
  • Force some bulbs for the holidays: amaryllis, paperwhites, and  hyacinths are all classic bulbs to force at this time of  year.
  • If you’ve purchased a poinsettia for the holidays, make sure to water when the surface of the soil feels dry and give it a nice, bright location in your home.

How to Protect Your Garden from a Spring Frost

Whether you push the gardening season or not, here in Michigan there’s always a danger that a late spring frost will wipe out your lovingly planted spring veggies. The earlier you plant, the more likely this is. The easiest way to almost guarantee that you’ll avoid a frost is to resist planting your vegetable garden (or tender annuals or herbs) until after the last spring frost date. Depending upon where you are in the state, that could be anytime between the first week of May to early July.

However, if you just can’t resist getting your garden started as soon as possible, there are still several things you can do to protect your plants if frost (or even snow) is in the forecast.

How to Protect Your Plants from Frost

If we have a prolonged period of freezing temperatures, your plants may be in trouble no matter what you do. However, if it’s just a day or two, with a bit of protection your plants should be able to come through just fine. The best thing to do is place some kind of barrier over your plants to keep cold air, wind, and frost out of them. Some ideas:

  • Plastic milk jug with the bottom cut out off it, placed over individual plants
  • Old-fashioned garden cloches
  • A cold frame placed over part of a bed
  • A low tunnel covered in plastic
  • A plastic tarp, set over stakes to lift it off of the plants
  • A floating row cover (best for when there’s just a chance of light frost)
  • A sheet or blanket (again, this is a good option for a light frost, not for snow or really frigid weather)
  • A drink cooler, overturned over a few plants. Remove it as soon as possible to ensure that your plants get enough light.
  • A cardboard box. Depending on the size this can cover several plants. Remove the box as soon as possible to let your plants get the light they need.

These ideas will help because they use items that most of us have around the house. We might not all have a cold frame, but chances are good that we can come up with a milk jug or cardboard box if we really need one. Keep these ideas in mind, and you’ll be able to save your garden from those annoying late spring frosts that are a common part of gardening in Michigan.

 

Make a Simple, Natural Holiday Centerpiece

Our dining room table gets a lot of use. In addition to the obvious (eating) it is also our craft table, school table, and sewing table. And because you can see it from both the living room and kitchen, it’s kind of also the centerpiece of our home.

So I knew I wanted to put something festive there for the holiday season, but with a 2 and 3 year old in the house, I didn’t want anything breakable, messy, or overly delicate. It needed to be something I could move often to get it out of the way when we need to use the table. And, as always, I wanted to do something that I wouldn’t have to spend money on.

This arrangement fits all of my requirements. It is in keeping with the country casual feel in our home. I can move it around without messing it up. I can change things out if they start looking tired. And, maybe best of all, it was FREE!

 

I found my inspiration on Simply Klassic Home (probably via Pinterest somehow…). The inspiration uses a galvanized trough, and I thought I’d do the same since I have one of those, but it’s larger, and rectangular, and just didn’t look right. So I went with a terracotta planter instead, and I love it.

All I did was put two pint-sized jars in the planter, with a couple of inches of water in the bottom of each. I filled in around the jars with pine cones the kids have collected from the yard the last few years (I was hoping to find something to do with them!)

All of the greenery were things I collected from our yard (as well as a few trimmings from our Christmas tree): white pine, red twig dogwood, trumpet vine, and rose hips. I just stuck them in the jars. I wanted a fuller look than the inspiration. You could always use less.

I should probably mention here that I stink at any kind of flower arranging. What I liked about this arrangement was that you really could just kind of stick stuff in the jars, and, because it’s such an informal arrangement, it looks right!

So, there you have it: free, easy, and natural. My kind of holiday arrangement!

Oh, and if you’re looking for something to do with your porch planters, Dave over at Growing the Home Garden has a similar idea for those. Stop by and have a look!

Edit: Here it is in the galvanized planter. I love the way it looks, but I’m not sure it looks right in our dining room. I’ll live with it for a while and see if I want to go back to the terracotta or not.

 

Where to Buy a Locally-Grown Michigan Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree season is upon us, and we Michiganders are particularly lucky in this department. Did you know that Michigan is the third largest grower of Christmas trees in the U.S.? Or that we grow more varieties of Christmas trees than any other state?

So it makes sense that if we’re from the mitten, and we’re planning on a real tree, that we make sure we’re supporting our local tree farmers and buying a locally-grown tree. Fortunately, that’s pretty easy to do.

Finding a Christmas Tree Farm

 

Michigan has many Christmas tree farms, where you can either spend a day going out and chopping down your own tree, or selecting from one of their already-cut trees. Either way, it can be rewarding to go right to the place where your tree was grown, and meet the people who grew it.

If you’re looking for a tree farm, the Michigan Christmas Tree Association has a helpful map on their site, where you can put in your zip code and find the closest farm. If you live in the southern part of the state, there are tree farms all over the place; those of you who live farther north may have a harder time finding a tree farm, but there are a few up north.

Finding a Christmas Tree Lot

 

You can also buy Michigan Christmas trees at retail lots, which are spread throughout the state. There aren’t many of these, unfortunately. while we see tree lots all over the place, these aren’t necessarily selling Michigan Christmas trees. To ensure you’re getting a locally-grown tree, check out the Michigan Christmas Tree Association’s website, where, again, they have a map of all of the retail lot locations, which you can search by zip code.

Farmer’s Markets

If you have a farmer’s market nearby (I’m lucky in that Detroit’s Eastern Market is very close) you can shop there for your tree. I know that Eastern Market carries not only locally-grown trees, but also wreaths, swags, and garlands grown and made locally. To find a farmer’s market that sells local trees, LocalHarvest.org is a good place to check. Simply go to LocalHarvest, and in the search box on the right, click “All,” then put in your zip code and search for “christmas trees.” The site will provide you with a list of all the farmer’s markets in your area that sell trees. You can then check out each entry to see if they are selling locally-grown trees. At a farmer’s market, it’s very likely that they’re local, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries

If you’re lucky enough to have a local independent nursery nearby, they are a great place to check for locally-grown Christmas trees as well. Here in the Detroit area, I know that Allemon’s Nursery in Grosse Pointe sells Michigan trees. I’m sure there are others as well.

So, support your Michigan tree farmers this year! It’s easy, and we’re lucky to have all of these tree farms right here in the mitten.

Tree farm photo by Lori Stalteri, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.
Tree lot photo by carrier lost, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.