Archie Bunker, in an old TV sitcom, used to admonish his wife, Edith, saying "Stifle yourself!" That's what I should say to myself — even if my name isn't Edith — when I go out in the yard following the seemingly endless days of cold and fog we've had this winter.
I am anxious to see whether I can detect freeze damage. Inspecting the roses and other shrubs and perennials, I am seized with the desire to get out my pruners and get to work. But I have to tell myself, "No! It's too early!" If you prune now, you will expose the newly cut surface to more freezing temperatures. That could cause some serious damage.
Also, walking on the soggy soil will compact it, creating additional stress for the plants. So, I make mental notes of what I have seen and take my itchy-fingered self back indoors. This isn't easy, but it's the right thing to do.
But what can I do indoors? Many of us get a ton of seed catalogs, and they are good for more than ordering seeds and drooling over pictures. Most of them contain lots of information about their varieties, as well as growing tips, which can help you make better choices. If you don't have many catalogs, check online or look in gardening magazines for information on how to get some you want.
I especially like Territorial Seeds in Cottage Grove, Nichols Nursery in Albany, and several other "local" catalogs. I implore you to get seeds that have been produced nearby (on the West Coast, at least), as they will respond more favorably to our climate.
While I am looking at and dreaming over seed catalogs, I will decide what I will grow that I've never grown before. This is something I picked up as a child from my mom in southern Minnesota. Each year, she'd try something new — from popcorn to peanuts. I'm sure that's one reason I love, and am always curious about, gardening. Hmmmm, how about purple potatoes? Or gourds raised in a straw bale?
It's not too early to order seeds, but like pruning, it's too early to plant them if your plan is to set them out in the spring. Stifle yourself, Edith! Tomatoes and peppers, for example, should be started indoors only six to eight weeks before they are transplanted into the garden in mid- to late May. This means waiting until mid-March to get them going. Your reward will be healthier, stocky (not leggy) plants that will produce well this summer.
When you go online to learn more about gardening, proceed with caution. Trust websites that are connected to a university, and be wary of sites trying to sell you something. And don't forget that local idea: advice from South Carolina or Maine may not apply to the Rogue Valley.
Classes are good options, too. You might want to start by attending the grape-pruning workshop on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Chris Hubert, of Oregon Vineyard Supply, will talk about growing grapes in the home garden, including terminology, care and solving grape problems. The hands-on workshop will run from 9 a.m. to noon. The cost is $10. Call 541-776-7371 to register.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at email@example.com.