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Home & Garden: January is for Garden Planning, get ready for spring planting now

The seed catalogues began to arrive before Christmas and I love to peruse them in January. All gardeners can do this month is dream as we look out the window at almost four feet of snow. This is the time to study those catalogues, garden magazines and books or go online to gardening sites. This is the time to make plans!

There are several garden magazines available and countless gardening books; however, the best ones to read are those that are written for our climate. It is fine to read any and all of them to get ideas. The danger is having 'zone envy' or worse yet ordering and planting things that are not hardy for this area.

Two websites that I check on are and The latter site is written by writer and landscape designer, Don Engebretson. He contributes a column on garden design for "Northern Gardener" magazine, which is an excellent publication of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society. In his articles, Don notes that a garden is never finished and that we need to be open to 'fresh ideas, new additions and a change of view.' You may have a new home with a blank canvas or an older one in need of a makeover. Perhaps, like me, you just want to try something new each year. Don's humorously written articles discuss basic design principles on placement of plants and the addition of structures (the bones) and accessories.

You can read "Northern Gardener" at the West Fargo Library, which also has a good selection of gardening books. I checked out two of them this past week.

The first book is "Perennials for the Plains and Prairies" by Edgar W. Toop and Sara Williams and published by the University Of Alberta Faculty Of Extension. The book begins with propagation of plants from seeds, cuttings and division and has very descriptive illustrations. The next chapter discusses all of the cultural elements necessary for perennials and bulbs to grow and thrive in harsh northern conditions. The chapter on design discusses how to develop a long season of bloom, and their idea for planning on paper gets quite involved. Most gardening books have a list of plant descriptions, but I especially like theirs, as it is easy to see relative heights and special requirements. There are special notes to warn of the possibility certain plants could become a nuisance. The plants they feature in this book are very relevant to our area as I think that our climate is quite akin to Canada.

The second book that I read was "Tough Plants for Northern Gardens" by Felder Rushing. He talks about 'unkillable' plants in the 'cold-winter' regions of the Midwest and Northeast. The problem with this book is that it is only inclusive as far north as zone 4 and most of the plants featured would be for zones much higher. Never the less it is an entertaining read with lots of practical gardening suggestions and interesting stories. Check out his Easter Egg Bush and Bottle Tree. He writes in easy to understand layman terms and not scientific jargon.

The books that I get the most helpful information from are the Month-By Month books by Melinda Myers. I have "Gardening in Minnesota" and "Gardening in the Dakotas," and a "Gardening in the Prairies" is available. Melinda has a bachelor's degree in horticulture from Ohio State University and a master's degree in horticulture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You may have seen her on "Melinda's Garden Moments" on network television.

Curl up in your armchair in front of the fire and enjoy some good reading. Be sure to have a pen and paper handy to jot down ideas for your wonderful garden-to-be.