Gardening in the Winter? Why Not?

Linda Knox
Adams County Master Gardener

When I recently asked a couple of my friends what kind of garden related activities they enjoy in the winter, they looked at me as though I had just fallen off the wagon headed for the Funny Farm. One had barely beaten the icy blasts and snow in getting the last bulb purchases in the ground, and the other happily announced that other concerns replaced outdoor activities for the next few months.

Could there be a better opportunity than the cold, dreary days of winter to work on your garden design? Take the time now to draw out your perfect garden. If you moved to a property where there is a garden, but you are not sure what's in it, you may try writing down the plants you observed in each season.

After "walking it through" mentally and physically, you may be convinced that you need a design on paper. There is help on the Internet. Try searching under garden or landscape design. There are also kits on the market to help map out an entire yard. Even without these aids, however, you could begin by simply charting those bulbs you last planted before winter set in; then complete your map by locating each plant as you recall or see its place in the garden. To enhance the visual effect, go one step farther and categorize spring, summer, and fall bloomers. Creating plastic sheets for each season that overlay each other can facilitate forming an overall view of the entire area. A winter sheet with shrubbery and trees would provide background for all other pages.

If you want to see more color at this time of the year, consider lightening up the drab brown areas with a heath species. Great for hillsides or rock gardens, different varieties bloom from late autumn through early spring. You may find a spot for an evergreen shrub or ground cover as well. Speaking of brightening, those long dark evenings of winter provide many opportunities to visualize a source of light--an outdoor lamp or lower pathway light may be just the thing to dramatize accents in the present appearance of the landscape.

In case you want some house brighteners, indoor plants can add cheer to the winter scene by changing the view from inside to outside. Good windowsill bloomers include African violets, wax begonias, geraniums, impatiens, oxalis, and thunbergia. The first requires high light but not more than two hours of direct sunlight daily; and the others do well in a generally light area. Cuttings from the wax begonia, geraniums, or impatiens that bloomed in your garden last summer serve well in this capacity.

Some winter gardening chores can be completed in the warmth of your own home. You can prepare pots and plan for the flower and vegetable seeds to start for outdoors later. Some take you outside. Late winter outside tasks include pruning fruit trees and spraying those and rose bushes with dormant oil to kill scale and insect eggs. Be aware also that some mulch may have blown away from plants that need covering to keep them from alternate freezing and thawing.

Now is the time to remember and review the plants you have seen or read about. Browse the catalogs to determine plants best suited to your location; this will help prevent impulse buying the next time you stop by the nursery "just to see what they have." A small notepad with descriptive data and your intentions related to color and placement will keep you on track. A picture clipped from your catalog to show more details can convince you to stick to the plan you made before shopping. Gardening is an all year activity. Each season brings with it its own chores and pleasures, and winter is no exception. Hopefully, by paying careful attention to your winter gardening activities, you will be prepared for a greater-than-ever garden this coming spring.

Read other articles by Linda Knox