Gardening Tips: Indoor Infestations

What to do this week

These days, I mark time, waiting for my leeks and onions to sprout and it’s time to start my early spring greens next month. It is a good time to pay attention to the indoor garden and other small tasks.

Houseplants, particularly those that spend their summers outdoors, can see a build-up of small pests this time of year. A small infestation of whiteflies or aphids can become a problem without the outdoor population of controlling predators. Mostly the damage they cause is cosmetic; but still, the outbreak can be controlled by either the application of insecticidal soap, or, in a pinch, by spraying the plants with a hand-held shower head to knock off the worst of the colony.

Houseplants in winter courtesy of Ambius.

Houseplants in winter courtesy of Ambius.

Some of these plants, with the longer days, will start a period of active growth and need to be fertilized, maybe even repotted. Those peppers you brought in last fall, for example, will start to shed their scruffy winter leaves and put out new ones. There is no need to feed them heavily at first – they will not be able to use it until there is more light and warmth — but a light watering with some fish fertilizer will help them wake up.

If you, like many others, missed planting out your garlic last fall, what with the unexpectedly early winter, there is still some hope. Take your garlic cloves and plant them indoors. If they have been stored in the warmth, they may need a couple of weeks in the refrigerator to break their dormancy. This is called vernalization and without it, they will not sprout, just shrivel. For best results, start them in little tubs of dirt in the fridge (if you can put up with eye-rolling from your family). In early spring, you can take the sprouted cloves, harden them off and plant them out in the garden. Admittedly, the bulbs will be smaller than those of fall-planted garlic, but they will still be quite respectable.

Another little task is to sort out your seed packets of yesteryear. In an ideal world, these will have been put into tightly closed mason jars last spring and stored in a dark, cool place. The three things that are quick to ruin a seed’s viability are heat, light and moisture. Of these, moisture is the most important to control. If seed packets have been left in an old shoe box under the bed, for instance, they will likely have poor germination and you shouldn’t waste your time with them. I will sometimes take old packets, mix them up and use them as a sort of edible cover crop in what will be the squash bed. Squash gets planted last, in early July, so if the seeds sprout, wonderful, I will get a quick little nibble before the squash overtakes them. If not, no harm done.

Seeds stored properly may still have lower germination, especially if they have been passed over for a few years. Carrot, lettuce and onion seed last only a year or two in storage. Peppers and brassicas will go three to four years. Tomatoes, squash and beans are more forgiving and will stay viable for up to 10 years under good conditions. Though it may hurt your frugal soul, throw out old seed. It is not worth the trouble of digging and planting only to have nothing come up.

It is a bit early to start pruning but it is a good time to start sorting out your orchard tools and supplies. You will be too busy to clean your ball traps when you need them, so do it now. If you didn’t clean and sharpen your clippers and pruners last fall, better get on that now as well. You should hold off actually pruning until you get a mild day above freezing, but that won’t be long coming.

If your heart longs for the sight and scent of blossoms, you can wait for that mild day and take cuttings from many different flowering shrubs for forcing. Take 8” sticks from small bushes like mock orange, forsythia and Japanese quince and longer stems — up to 32” — from apples, crabapples, cherries and saskatoons. Scrape off the bark from the lower 3” and cut several slits in the cut end. Soak the branch in water for 24 hours at warm room temperature before standing them in a vase of water out of direct sun. They should bloom in two to four weeks.

It is getting late to start forcing spring bulbs, but it is worth a try for small daffodils, narcissi and crocuses. You should use good-sized bulbs for best results – bulbs that are too small may not bloom – and be sure to water them evenly, as too much water will cause rot. Afterwards, you frugal types can plant the spent bulbs out in the garden but it will be a few years before they get big and fat enough to bloom again.

Soon it will be time to plant some cool season greens for the greenhouse. We’ll talk about that next week.

Featured image: Whitefly. Photo by gbohne from Berlin, Germany, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.




Hey, while we’ve got you here, can we just say thanks for reading the Spectator? We’re always glad to see you.

That said, if you wanted to make us dance a (virtual) jig of joy, please consider subscribing. You can find out more about what we’re all about here, before cruising on over to the Subscriptions Page, where you can choose from a fine selection of possibilities — including a joint subscription with the Halifax Examiner. And right now, if you take out a regular, annual subscription to the Spectator ($100) or a joint annual Spectator/Examiner subscription ($160), you’ll get a free gift — yes, you read that correctly, the Spectator’s got swag!

Prefer to monitor the situation awhile longer? Not quite ready to commit? Why not sign up for our weekly newsletter to find out what’s been newly released from behind the paywall (and give us a chance to win you over)?

Thanks for listening! We now return you to your regularly scheduled web browsing…