Winter Gardening: What to Do While Your Garden Sleeps

Many people mistakenly believe that gardens die every winter. This isn’t true. They simply go to sleep. There are several activities that you can do over the winter to make your garden a more beautiful and production addition to your life.

Till the garden
I live in an area where we generally get our first dusting of snow after Thanksgiving but before Christmas. Then it will warm up a bit. I take this time to till the leftover leaves and any compost into the vegetable garden bed. The leaves and compost will rot all winter and add nutrients to the soil.

Mulch the garden
The area I live in is in the northern part of a southern zone. In other words, some winters are mild and some are harsh. I have a few less hardy bulbs and ground shrubs that need the extra mulch in case winter is a little rougher than usual. The leftover straw from my Halloween decorations works great for this.

Mend stakes
Many people think that in winter they can ignore their staked plants. If you do you just might not have a plant in spring. Plants don’t really die in winter, they go dormant. If a staked plant falls over or the stake is loose and is dislodged by a winter storm, the plant can be injured or killed. Check any staked plants after every winter storm. Do the same for any plants with a trellis.

Plan your vegetable garden
My seed catalogues start arriving in January. By February I’m itching to get back into the garden. This is the best time to plan your next vegetable garden. Select the varieties of each vegetable, try a few new ones and order supplies. Most companies, including Burpee, don’t ship seedlings until it’s time to plant unless you specify otherwise. If you plan to start seeds indoors, you are going to want to get them started. If you plan your vegetable garden in winter you will be ready to plant in spring.

Plan your flower garden
There are many plant catalogues that start arriving in winter even though the companies don’t ship until spring. Take advantage of this and plan your flower garden early. You will get the best selection of plants and they will arrive at the proper time for planting. This is a good way to find out about new flowers and shrubs and maybe find something new for that tricky spot in your yard.

Examine your gardening tools
In my area fall arrives in mid October and leaves in mid December. Needless to say I’m busy with garden cleanup and the holidays. My gardening tools get thrown into a pile for when I have time to deal with them. Check your tools for loose handles, rust and damage. Clean them and put them away. Make a list of tools that need to be replaced and try and purchase them over the winter while they are an off season item and cheaper.

Plant a winter garden
Ok, technically this should be done in autumn. But it’s for winter, so it counts! There are several shrubs that have interesting bark, colorful berries or are evergreen. As an example, in my yard I have a dwarf pine tree that stands about 9 feet tall. It’s surrounded by a bulb garden and ball mums that are maroon and yellow. In the spring the tree is surrounded by daffodils and tulips. In the summer it plays host to my iris and gladiola collection. By the time they die back the mums are perfect for autumn. I decorate it for Christmas and after that I wait for the snowdrops. It gives me something pretty to look at when everything is basically shades of gray.

Start your vegetable seedlings
As an example, starting your tomato and pepper plants indoors can give you an extra 2-3 months of harvesting. You can be dining on fresh tomatoes while your neighbor is just planting the seedlings! Any vegetable that you can start early is going to give you an advantage in the garden. Plus it gives you some gardening to do during the cool winter months.

Start your flower seeds
This is its own category for a reason. Some flowers simply look better if they have time to grow, go to seed and re-grow. One of my absolute favorite plant varieties is the “Trick-or-Treat pansy. This pansy has an adorable mixture of bright orange and jet black blooms. The fist bloom is a bit thin. Then they go to seed and when they re-bloom they are thick and lush. I use them for autumn decorations. Many annual plants have this habit and if you start the seeds in winter they have time to do this. If you wait then you may have to make do with a less lush flower.

Till new garden beds
Why people wait until spring to do this is a mystery to me. It works so much better to do it in winter before the ground freezes. Any weeds will spend the winter rotting, as will the sod and leaves. Then when the garden is tilled again before planting the soil is much richer and easier to work. This is true of any garden bed. Start in winter and you will have a much happier spring.

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