Winter Tips for Gardeners

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardner

Only a few short weeks until Christmas and a few months until the planting season is upon us. Now that your Christmas List is well on its way to completion, you may want to be sure that the last few to-dos are crossed off your gardening list before winter sets in.

  • Did you mulch your strawberry plants after they went dormant? It is important to do this before the temperature drops to 20 F. This will help prevent winter damage and provide cleaner berries in the next year.
  • You may still be able to collect some seeds from your favorite flowering plants. If so, store them in a cool dry place for next spring.
  • Spring bulbs can still be planted as long as the ground is not frozen. By taking advantage of late season bulb sales, one can look forward to a colorful spring landscape - even before the last snow melts with early bloomers like snowdrop!
  • Vegetable crops like Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale are sweeter after frost. Keep harvesting them as long as you are able to do so.
  • A thick layer of mulch will help extend the life of your root crops like carrots, leeks and parsnips. Dig them out as needed.
  • Think about giving your evergreens and shrubs one last deep root watering before winter sets in. Allow the water to extend beyond the drip line. A thirsty tree going into the cold season will be much more susceptible to winter damage than a well-watered one.
  • Leave major pruning of most trees until spring, with the exception of spring bloomers, which require a more educated approach to pruning - check specific references to blooming trees and shrubs. Broken limbs may be pruned now for esthetic purposes.
  • Leave the chore of cutting ornamental grasses back until late winter or early spring, which will provide extra habitat for birds as well as an extra food source in their seed heads. The foliage adds interest in the garden as well.
  • Indoor plants and those you brought in from outside need to be inspected. Perhaps you missed something in your first inspection. Take quick action if you spot insects to protect all of your indoor plants.
  • In case you didn't get to till your garden yet, now is prime time to do so - prior to the first freeze of course. In early spring the soil is often too wet to work. By taking advantage of our surprisingly warm fall weather this year, a last minute tilling of the soil right now can give you a head start in the spring.
  • A special joy to gardeners and winter gardens are our feathered friends. Be sure to provide some food and water for them and they will give you hours of viewing pleasure in return.
  • If you haven't checked your birdhouses and nesting spots for debris left from a busy summer of raising families, now is a good time to do so in preparation for another breeding season in spring.
  • Did bats inhabit your bat house last year? If so, by now they may have moved into their winter hibernation location. When all is clear, check the bat house for any sign of signs of bee, hornet, or wasp activity. If bats did not move in, it may be due to the fact that these pesky stinging critters deterred the bats. Now is the time to be sure the house is inviting to a colony of bats when they are active again in spring. (We were fortunate to get bats in our bat house this past year, with no consequences except fewer bugs. I recommend trying it this year!)

As the countdown to the holiday begins, use your garden as a means to stay connected to the earth. Let your plantings be your yoga and the birds, grazing at your garden feeder, a calming presence. There is nothing like a trip to the mall to give your adrenalin a boost - offset the hustle and bustle of preparing for the festivities with some quiet time with a gardening book, dreaming about next year's plantings.

The holidays, as do the seasons of the year, come and go. Take from this holiday a special memory to be tucked away for years to come. Make a memory with friends and family that will never be forgotten. Those most memorable can cost the least.

Likewise, as you plan next year's garden, make a memory with some small adjustment of an existing garden or a major project that consumes you. Leave your mark in the soil.

Most of all, take time to make the most of this holiday season, whatever your beliefs. For most of us, there is no other time of the year than at Christmas when we invest more time, money and effort into a few short weeks. Unless you are a gardener of course, and then, that frenzy of digging and planting once the first frost passes can certainly compare! Since I am one (a gardener), my advice to you this Christmas is "relax and smell the roses" or the poinsettias, if you will!

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Read other articles by Kay Hinkle