Maine Home Garden News — January 2023

In This Issue:

January Is the Month to . . .

By Kate Garland, Horticulture Professional, UMaine Extension Penobscot County

House plantMonitor indoor plants for pests. Review our Bulletin #2613, Tips for Growing Houseplants in Maine: Controlling Insects and Disease in Houseplants, for helpful images of and solutions to common pests, diseases, and disorders. 

Remove spent blooms from seasonal bulbs such as amaryllis and paperwhites. Cut the flower stalks about 2” above the bulb, but keep the green foliage so plants can continue photosynthesizing. To learn more about keeping these plants thriving so they may bloom again next year see, What should I do with my amaryllis after it is done blooming?

Clean and sharpen pruning tools. Look further in this newsletter for an inspiring and heartwarming true story of how one Extension staff person brought back to life an abandoned set of pruners discovered at a local Extension office. 

List the things you plan to grow from seed and note when they should be sown. Many gardeners use the trusty pen-and-paper calendar to keep track of their planting activities, but some prefer to go digital. A spreadsheet is a great way to get organized and is easy to replicate so you don’t have to start from scratch every year. Here’s a sample:

Type Variety Seed Supplier Target Planting Date Actual Planting Date Notes
Tomato San Marzano XYZ Seed Co. April 14 April 12 extra seed leftover for next year
Gomphrena Strawberry Fields ABC Seed Co. March 21 March 31 seedlings were great even though sown later

Finish ordering seeds and seed-starting supplies such as new grow lights, replacement bulbs, trays, and seed-starting mix. Consider using plastic containers from the recycling bin for seed sowing. Be sure to clean containers thoroughly and make sure they have plenty of holes for drainage. 

As seed orders arrive, be sure to store them in a cool, dry dark environment. While some will be fine at room temperature, the viability of others will drop dramatically if not stored cool. I keep a small box of seeds in the back of my fridge. While it takes up a little space, it’s usually the space where food items get forgotten anyway. 

Prepare your seed starting area. This might mean building a wooden seed starting stand, or simply carving out space on top of your fridge to set up a small PVC light stand such as the one pictured here:

Seed starting stand diagramVariety of plantsGrow microgreens. While January is much too soon to sow common vegetable and flower seedlings, it’s a great time to grow this quick and nutritious winter treat. Sow weekly for a continuous supply. Here’s some great information, The ABCs of Microgreens( PDF), on types to grow, and a helpful how-to resource Growing Microgreens (PDF).

Lastly, set achievable goals for the upcoming year. Consider trying a new variety of tomatoes or a new crop, removing an invasive plant, or even simply visiting a public garden you’ve never been to before. Our job is to grow as gardeners, too!

Combating the Ravages of Time: Renovating Hopeless Tools!

By Jonathan Foster, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Penobscot County 

Tool StartSometimes, in the life of a Cooperative Extension employee, a colleague “happens to find” a tool that “someone else left outside.”  And they bring it to you because they know you have a strange taste for taking what looks like the office’s new doorstop or paperweight and making it a functional garden friend once again.  The hunk of junk shown above was allegedly found outside our office, in the Eastern Maine Native Plant Arboretum.  In honor of the cold winter days we patiently endure while looking ahead to the rebirth of spring, we’re going to bring this pair of clippers back from the dead!  I can be a bit of a stickler when it comes to cleaning and maintaining tools and I’m happy to pass that bug along.  The simple steps detailed below will not only extend the life of your tools but also save you money in the long run.

So, what is rust?  Technically speaking it’s an iron oxide, a substance created by a chemical reaction that occurs naturally when the iron is in the presence of water (either liquid or, under the right conditions, vapor in the air).  Unlike the patina on the surface of a copper implement, the rust layer that forms does not protect the underlying iron, and the rusting process, given enough time and the right conditions, can and will eventually disintegrate the entire iron implement.  

But we aren’t going to let that happen to this particular prodigal toolbox son!

Step 1, The Vinegar Soak

“Our Garrick’s a salad; for in him, we see oil, vinegar, sugar, and saltness agree…” (Oliver Goldsmith)

Tool in vinegarFirst, I submerged the clippers overnight in the finest plain, white, distilled vinegar Hannaford has to offer.  Normally, I’d use a can, but the fancy glassware better showed what was going on inside.  Vinegar is actually mild acetic acid and the iron oxide is mildly soluble in its presence—that’s a fancy way of saying the rust will dissolve in the vinegar.  After a few hours, bubbles of hydrogen can be seen coming off the rust deposits, and rust solids can clearly be seen sloughing off in the vinegar and dropping to the bottom of the container.   Chemically, the iron oxide has been converted into hydrogen gas and iron acetate, which precipitates into a pile.

Step 2, The Scrub

“We all make mistakes as the hedgehog said as he climbed off the scrubbing brush…”  (Anne Sullivan)

Wire brushThe American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that the average American should get 30-60 minutes of exercise each day for optimal health.  We at the Cooperative Extension want to help you do just that!  So, here comes the “elbow grease” portion of our renovation project.  After you rinse the vinegar from the clippers, a good scrubbing with a decent wire brush will remove many of the remaining rust deposits, which will already have been 1) greatly diminished in number, and 2) loosened significantly by the vinegar.  

Depending on the sort of tool you have, and the extent of rust it’s suffering from, it may be helpful to take the tool apart using an Allen wrench set so you can clean the components individually.  This will be easier with high-quality tools, which are made for easy disassembling.  It may also be helpful to have a few different sizes of wire brush so that you can reach inaccessible nooks, crannies, and grooves in the tool architecture.  But much of your work can be accomplished with a regular old brush, some gumption, and patience.

Step 3, The Second Pass

“One only needs two tools in life: WD-40 to make things go, and duct tape to make them stop.”  (G.M. Weilacher)

Regular brushWash and dry the clippers again.  If you like, you can repeat the vinegar treatment until acceptable results are had, but be warned that the process may be slow as acetic acid is relatively weak.  I generally break out the WD-40 at this point and apply a thin coat to the metal parts, then scrub again with the wire brush.  The thick deposits of rust will come loose, but you’ll notice that the metal now looks brownish and dull—this is the slurry of solvent and rust particles.  Wash and dry the clippers (a dish brush or just rough pressure from your fingertips will help remove the greasy residue) and you’ll see bright metal shining through.  

Step 4, To your Taste, Repeat as Needed

“Happiness is the longing for repetition. . .” (Milan Kundera)

Continue this process 1-3 times, depending on how much rust there is and how new you want the clippers to look.

Step 5, Remember to Preserve your Efforts

“The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order…” (Alfred North Whitehead)

The metal parts of the clippers are now squeaky clean, rust-free . . . and super vulnerable to rusting once again.  Prevent this by rubbing the tool with a light sheen of boiled linseed or tung oil to seal the metal and lubricate moving parts.   The WD-40 from Step 3 is primarily a solvent, not a lubricant, so oiling is essential.   NB: both boiled linseed and tung oils are volatile—carefully read the container instructions for use and storage.  Finally, given what this tool looked like when we got started, it’s entirely reasonable to assume it may need sharpening at this point, as well.  Be sure to re-oil the cutting surface after sharpening.

Step 6, Briefly Admire the Results, Then Get Back Out There!

Tool finishEt voila!  What might have looked to be garbage to the amateur eye is now renovated and ready for action.  Clean it thoroughly of any dirt and debris each time you use it, remove sticky or gummy substances on the surfaces, and oil it periodically to keep it looking amazing and working hard for you for years to come. By the way, boiled linseed and tung oil are both great for sealing and maintaining wooden tool handles, too.  

There are other methods for renovating and cleaning tools, but this is an effective way to do the job with tools you either already have on hand or can acquire for a reasonable cost.  Good gardening!

Tree Strategies for Winter Survival

By Jonathan Foster, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Penobscot County

As we move into winter with our first snowfall, we appreciate even more the evergreen trees with their fresh foliage and stately presence in the landscape.  Much of the lush greenery that screened our garden plots and yards during the growing season has disappeared, leaving bare branches and views of those nearby buildings we never noticed in the summertime.  Have you ever wondered why our deciduous trees bother to drop their leaves in autumn and regrow new leaves when warm weather returns, while their evergreen relatives doggedly hold onto those beautiful green needles all winter?  The answer involves the trees’ water and nutrient needs, and the strategies that various species have evolved to manage such a crucial aspect of life.  Whether a tree retains its leaves through the cold months is only the most visible of the different ways that deciduous and evergreen trees protect themselves from winter weather.

Tree strategy for survival - text that reads: Carbon Dioxide + Water + Sunlight goes to Carbohydrates + OxygenPlants need carbon dioxide from the air, water from the soil, and light from the sun to conduct photosynthesis.  This physiological process produces the carbohydrates that form the basis for all terrestrial food chains on Earth.  When trees take in carbon dioxide through countless tiny pores on the outside of each leaf or needle, they simultaneously expel a much greater amount of water vapor.  During the sunny, warm months when liquid water in the soil is ample, this disparity is easily managed, and photosynthetic returns outweigh the loss of water vapor; but in the cold, dimly lit months when the ground is frozen and liquid water is locked up in ice, the imbalance can mean a net loss to the organism.  This puts the tree at risk of dehydration.  Deciduous and evergreen trees have evolved different strategies to manage these challenges.

Deciduous treesDeciduous trees have two important structural differences from evergreen trees: 

1) broad, flat leaves with many pores and chloroplasts (the organs that conduct photosynthesis)
2) larger vascular tissue, through which water is conducted from soil to leaves. 

These structures give deciduous trees a piece of the high-powered photosynthetic machinery, supplied by a strong water conduit system during the growing season.  The upside is a fast growth, extensive flower production, and energy-intensive fruit production.  The downside is the risk of losing unsustainable amounts of water vapor through their leaves during cold months. Deciduous trees also are more likely to suffer air bubbles and freezing damage in the more ample vascular tissue.  These risks are mitigated during the fall through a process called abscission.  Nutrients from the leaves are stored in the more permanent woody tissue. Each leaf is enzymatically sealed off with a waterproof cell layer, and its tissue falls away.  The organism goes dormant until spring when environmental conditions trigger the plant to use its stored nutrients to produce new leaves. 

Evergreen treesEvergreen trees, on the other hand, conduct photosynthesis more slowly, through fewer leaf pores, and with narrower, more freeze-resistant vascular tissue.  They also invest resources in a waxy cuticle layer that coats the needle.  These features mean a lower rate of photosynthetic production and slower growth, but greater resistance to dehydration and air embolism in winter.  Evergreens also possess specialized anatomical “hatches” called tori in the vascular tissue that seal off and contain any damaged tissue.  As a result, needled trees keep their leaves in cold weather and lose far less water than their deciduous neighbors, maintaining a very low level of active photosynthesis to offset the loss.

In essence, deciduous trees have gained faster growth rates and biomass production at the expense of having to store resources to repair or replace damaged vascular tissue and regrow a whole new set of leaves each season.  Evergreen trees, on the other hand, avoid the necessity of that resource investment by photosynthesizing and growing more slowly.  So, when you see those fresh green leaves pop out on your deciduous trees this spring, remember that they are costly to produce, that they will quickly become powerhouse photosynthesizers to generate biomass and store it for next winter, and that the clock is already ticking on their lifespan.  As for those evergreen neighbors?  They’re just moving along slowly and steadily through the year!

Mainely Dish

EFNEP, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program logo

Thanks to suggestions from some of our readers, we’ll be adding seasonal recipes to the newsletter each month. This delicious treat comes from our colleagues at the Expanded Food and Nutrition Program.

Curried Carrot Soup

Serves: 4

Serving size: 1 ½ cups


  • 2 teaspoons canola or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 4 cups chicken/vegetable broth, or 4 cups water with 4 bouillon cubes
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper


  1. In a medium saucepan, sauté onion in oil until tender.
  2. Add carrots, broth, lemon juice, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Stir together.
  3. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until carrots are tender.
  4. Remove from heat. Mash well with a potato masher or immersion blender, or process in a standard blender until smooth.
  5. Adjust seasonings to taste.
  6. Reheat the blended soup in a pot or saucepan. Serve hot.

Backyard Bird of the Month: Cedar Waxwing

By Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist

DougHitchcox-Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing; Photo credit to Doug Hitchcox.

With their silky smooth plumage, Cedar Waxwings are a visual treat to witness through a pair of binoculars or outside your window. These striking birds get their name from (historically) feeding on cedar berries but are now more likely to be encountered on ornamental plantings, often even in urban settings. Make sure to remove any non-native honeysuckle from your yard because waxwings are known to eat the fruit, which unfortunately spreads the seeds! The “waxwing” part of their name comes from the scarlet-red droplets on the tips of their secondaries—the inner half of the wing.

For more on the importance of Maine native plants to support birds like Cedar Waxwings and other wildlife, visit Maine Audubon’s “Bringing Nature Home” webpage. 

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University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Home Garden News is designed to equip home gardeners with practical, timely information.

For more information or questions, contact Kate Garland at or 1.800.287.1485 (in Maine).

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Maine Home Garden News was created in response to a continued increase in requests for information on gardening and includes timely and seasonal tips, as well as research-based articles on all aspects of gardening. Articles are written by UMaine Extension specialists, educators, and horticulture professionals, as well as Master Gardener Volunteers from around Maine. The following staff and volunteer team take great care editing content, designing the web and email platforms, maintaining email lists, and getting hard copies mailed to those who don’t have access to the internet: Abby Zelz*, Annika Schmidt*, Barbara Harrity*, Cindy Eves-Thomas, Kate Garland, Mary Michaud, Michelle Snowden, Naomi Jacobs*, Phoebe Call*, and Wendy Roberston. 

*Master Gardener Volunteers

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

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