Best of WNY.com
 Wild Things…
Think Seeds 
By Karen Vizzi
     In spite of post-holiday doldrums and winter blues, I always look forward to January. I think it’s one of the most exciting times in the gardening year because it’s a great time for dreaming, planning and preparing for the coming growing season.
     And believe it or not, it’s time to think SEEDS
     The seed and plant catalogs are rolling in at a steady pace now, so there’s no better time to put some serious thought into what to grow in this year’s garden. I start most of the new additions to my garden from seed, so I rely heavily on catalogs to show me what’s new and exciting. Waiting until April or May to buy seeds from the local garden center can often be disappointing. The selection is nowhere near as good as the catalogs, and most seeds need to be started indoors by March in order to enjoy a full growing season in Western New York. I start by listing everything I would love to have, but I wait until the end of January to place the order. Re-reading my list, consulting my garden map and weighing the cost usually pares my order down considerably. It is also helpful to narrow down your order to one or two seed companies, so that you are not paying more in shipping and handling than for the actual seeds. And most of the good catalogs have a comprehensive selection. Two of my personal favorites are Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) and The Cook’s Garden (www.cooksgarden.com). 
     One caution when browsing … don’t be tempted to order more seeds than you have room for plants. If you start seeds indoors, then you must consider whether you have the space, growlights and patience for all the seed you purchase, not to mention space to plant them outside. Direct seeding (in the ground) of most annuals and vegetables cannot be done until the end of May, which really shortens the season. For this reason, I hope you will consider starting your seeds indoors. This is a topic we’ll talk about frequently in the next few months.
     Seed and plant catalogs are also an invaluable resource for cultural information and plant identification, so I rarely throw out the good ones. Many have beautiful illustrations or pictures that can be clipped and laminated for plant labels, garden journals or scrapbooks. So grab those catalogs and the garden map that you made last fall, and settle down by the fire for some inspiration!
    I find January a good time to handle a few other chores, as well. First, I do a quick inventory of my seed starting supplies and make sure that all the starting trays and plastic pots are clean. In the rush of the previous year’s planting, I have been known to be lazy and just toss these things aside. But a quick wash and dip into a water/bleach solution is good insurance against disease or mold that can devastate a tray of new seedlings. I also change the bulbs in my light set up. Inexpensive shoplights (available at any hardware or home store) with plain fluorescent tubes make perfect growlight fixtures. I have done many experiments with plain tubes versus special (and expensive) GRO-tubes, and I find there is no difference in the growth rates of my seedlings. 
     Most outside chores are impossible right now, but it is a good idea to clear any ice or snow buildup off of favorite shrubs or trees. The weight of snow or ice can break off or disfigure branches and limbs, leaving living tissue exposed to deadly, icy winds. A gentle brushing or shaking should do the trick, but be careful. You don’t want your snow removal method to be what breaks the plant!
    Bird Brainers: The junco, a small slate-gray bird with a pink bill and white underfeathers, is often called the “snowbird” because it usually seen at feeders only when there is snow on the ground.
    Butterfly Bullets: When browsing the plant and seed catalogs, remember to choose flowers that are high in nectar content for your wild garden. A good rule of thumb is to think native or naturally occurring…such as plants in the daisy (composite) family or those with long tubular flowers. Flowers that have been overly manipulated such as roses, begonias and geraniums will not be as attractive to butterflies because the nectar content has been sacrificed for growth and flower performance in the hybridization process.
    Let It Be: Don’t discard that Christmas tree! Prop it up in the garden as shelter for the birds, or prune off the branches and save them. If and when the snow melts during a mid-winter thaw, evergreen boughs placed over the crown of perennials will help protect them against heaving.

 
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