Questions about winter gardening? URI’s gardening hotline has the answers – URI News



KINGSTON, RI – November 22, 2021 – The University of Rhode Island Gardening and Environmental Helpline receives thousands of calls and emails each year on everything from planting flowers and from vegetables to lawn care and pest control.

Due to growing demand, the hotline is now open all year round and 21 volunteer master gardeners answer questions seven days a week. Walk-in visitors to the Mallon Outreach Center in Kingston are welcome by appointment. Call 401-874-4836 and leave a message for a return call, or email [email protected] for answers to your gardening questions.

During the winter months, the type of questions that volunteers receive are very different from those in the growing season. Here are the top 5 winter gardening questions and their answers.

  1. How to keep houseplants healthy during the winter months?

The environmental conditions indoors during the winter months are often rather poor. Low light levels, cold drafts, and low relative humidity are stressful for plants. These conditions can cause houseplants to lose a few leaves, but constant care during the winter should keep the plants healthy.

Master Gardener Alan Newton, one of the Gardening Hotline coordinators, said sites near east and west facing windows are often the best for ensuring adequate sunlight, except plants such as African violets, which do best in northern windows or under 12 hours of fluorescent light.

“Make sure the plant is away from cold drafts or heat sources, and apply water until it starts to drain from the bottom of the pot,” he said. declared. “Discard excess water and allow the soil surface to dry to the touch before watering again. Most houseplants do not need to be fertilized during the winter months.

  • How to fight against harmful insects on indoor plants?

It is not uncommon for houseplants imported from outside or purchased from a store to contain insects. Newton therefore recommends isolating plants for a week or two on a closed porch or in a closed room before being brought to an area where other houseplants are present.

“Carefully examine all parts of the plant and containers before you bring them home from the store or bring them inside,” he said. “A magnifying glass may be necessary because some insects are quite small. Examine the top and bottom of the leaves and stems for holes, eggs, or straps. Watch for any leaf discoloration and look for sticky honeydew substances that could be an indication of aphids, mealybugs, or mealybugs.

Some insects like mushroom flies move when plants are watered. Yellow or blue sticky traps detect flying insects. If insects are present, the plants can be wiped with a damp cloth, infected leaves can be pruned, the soil can be replaced with sterile soil, and some pests can be removed. While these non-chemical methods do not eliminate the pests, most can be controlled with insecticidal soaps or neem oil. If all of these efforts fail, it may be better to get rid of the plant rather than infect other houseplants.

  • How to maintain trees and shrubs in winter?

It is important to continue watering trees and shrubs until the ground freezes and checking them for any diseased foliage, which should be discarded instead of composted. Do your best to protect trees and shrubs from heavy snow, and in February they should be inspected for branches that could benefit from pruning. It is best to prune fruit trees in March by removing dead or diseased branches while the trees are not growing.

For flowering shrubs, Newton said it’s best to wait until they’ve flowered for pruning. Hydrangeas can be pruned in winter or spring depending on the type. Climbing varieties do not require any pruning.

“With the panicle or large-leaved hydrangea varieties, the dead flowers can be pruned, but since they bloom on old and new wood, I usually wait until spring to tell the difference between old wood and wood. dead, “he said. “After two or three years of establishment, smooth varieties can be pruned to the ground in the spring. If you don’t know what strain you have, it’s best to wait until spring to prune.

  • How and when should I start growing seeds indoors?

Many flowers and vegetables can be grown from seeds indoors. Vigorous plants started indoors flower earlier and produce an earlier harvest than plants started outdoors. However, it is best to sow the seeds of some plants directly outdoors when weather conditions permit.

The time to sow the seeds indoors depends on how long it takes to develop a healthy graft large enough to be successfully moved outdoors, Newton said. The reach can be 3 to 15 weeks depending on the plants and growing conditions in the house. Seed pack information can be used as a guide, or visit URI’s online planting calendar (

Seeds should be planted in a loose, well-drained, fine-textured medium. Vermiculite, sphagnum moss, and soilless mixes are ideal for starting seeds. The initial containers should be small and they should be sterilized and free of chemicals if they have been used before. Once planted, they will need heat but not light. Temperatures should be maintained between 60 ° and 65 ° F, and they should be kept moist but not drowned. Once germs appear, light is important, whether solar or artificial. Seedlings require about 15 hours of light, and they should be lightly fertilized and transplanted into larger pots, as needed, before sowing outdoors.

Two seed planting videos are available on the URI Cooperative Extension YouTube channel.

  • How to prepare my garden for spring?

Winter is the time to prepare and plan for the gardening season. Now is a good time to inspect, clean, repair, or purchase gardening tools. Tools should be sanitized with a 10% bleach solution and sharpened as needed.

Winter is also a time to review the past year to find out what has grown well and what hasn’t, Newton said. Which plants have succumbed to the disease? Which plants could be moved for more favorable growing conditions? If the soil has not yet frozen, winter is also an optimal time to send soil samples to the University of Connecticut or the University of Massachusetts for nutrient analysis to avoid the rush of spring. And weather permitting, winter is a good time to prune invasive plants, as spaces with dense foliage and growth are often easier to navigate.

Other common winter questions relate to which plants to plant under certain conditions. The Rhode Island Native Plant Guide ( and Coastal Plant Guide ( have filters allowing users to select conditions such as plant requirements. sun, humidity and size. They provide comprehensive lists of native plants that thrive in New England soils.

The URI hotline can also provide advice for plantings in specific situations, such as soil textures, resistance of wildlife or vegetation cover.



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