Garden planning and preparation will produce success
Winter is a good time for garden planning. Consult your notes on seed and plant purchases, past garden successes and failures, and garden maps as you begin to plan garden improvements for the coming year.
Do not let the pretty catalog pictures push you into buying things that may not work in your particular garden. Choosing the right plant for the conditions in your garden that meet your design goals is very important for success.
• Order seed, bulb and nursery catalogs to assist in planning your garden for the 2022 gardening season if they have not been arriving in your mail yet. To help you choose the best plants for your garden, take advantage of the Chicago Botanic Garden's online resource, Illinois' Best Plants, as well as its Plant Information Service, Lenhardt Library and classes at the Joseph Regenstein Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
• It is a good idea to check on the seeds you have saved and stored from last year's garden. Discard seeds that are damp, diseased or moldy, and then determine what you need to order for the coming year.
Order plants and seeds early to ensure availability of the plant varieties you want. Consider varieties that are pest and disease resistant to minimize future problems in the garden.
• Inspect squash, potatoes, root crops and other vegetables and fruits you have in winter storage. Although conditions may have been ideal when you harvested and stored them in the fall, winter weather may have made it too cold or damp. Potatoes stored in an unheated garage will likely freeze during periods of very cold winter weather and should be moved to the basement and kept as cool as possible.
Throw away or compost anything that has spoiled or has soft spots. The same goes for summer flower bulbs like dahlias and gladioli that you have saved to plant this year.
• It is important to protect houseplants from cold temperatures when purchasing them in the winter. Most garden centers will wrap plants to protect them from cold temperatures, but if they don't, be sure to ask them to wrap the plants for you.
Wrapping the plants also protects them from breaking. Be sure the plants are placed in a stable location in the car on the way home so they do not tip over when you are braking and accelerating.
When transporting plants, the car should be warm, especially if outdoor temperatures are below freezing. Plants should never be transported in a cold trunk or allowed to sit in a cold car for any length of time.
It is best to set the plant on a stable surface and carefully tear or cut the wrapper from the bottom up to unwrap the plant. Do not attempt to pull the wrapper off the plant, as you risk breaking stems, flowers and leaves. Plants should stay within their wrappings for no more than 24 hours. Open the top to allow the plants to get air if you cannot remove the entire wrapping right away.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.