Winter Activity

Charlie Metz
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Most people who enjoy gardening are really bored this time of year. Unless you have many houseplants to care for, there isnít really much to do that is garden related. My experience has taught me that there are really quite a few things I can do during the winter that makes my spring gardening go much smoother.

Being in the landscaping business all my career taught me that spring always arrives before you are ready. There is nothing more frustrating than letting your lawn grow too tall in the early spring only to discover that the lawnmower wonít start. And guess what? The lawnmower repairman is backed up 2 to 4 weeks by that time. That is why so many lawnmowers are sold to existing lawnmower owners. You just canít wait a month to get your equipment fixed. Going out on a dry day in February or early March to try to start the lawnmower or weedeater or chainsaw is a good practice. Usually just putting in fresh gas and changing the oil and spark plug is enough to get these machines running, but you want the option of taking it to the repairman before he gets busy.

Winter is also a great time to maintain all the garden tools. Shovels can use a sharpening. Handles can be checked for cracks and replaced if necessary. Pruners can be oiled and sharpened to be ready to use in the spring garden. Broken tools can be discarded and new ones purchased. You can coat the wooden handles of your wheelbarrow with linseed oil to protect them all year. Donít forget to grease the wheels and check for proper tire inflation.

Winter is a great time to prune many of your trees and shrubs. Pruning is a great way to maintain healthy and productive plants. By pruning in the winter, the chance of spreading disease or insects is greatly reduced. The reason for pruning in the winter is to correct flaws that came from the previous years growth. Obviously you want to prune out any dead wood. Suckers and water sprouts are easier to spot in the winter. Branches or suckers less than ľ inch in diameter can actually be ripped by hand. This takes the branch down to its growing point, lessening the possibility of a new sucker sprouting from the old wound.

Shrubs that flower later in the year can be pruned in the winter. These shrubs form their flower buds on the current yearís growth, so a winter or early spring pruning is best for them. Butterfly bushes can be cut to the ground. Crape myrtles can be thinned to remove many of the canes that developed in previous years. Rose of Sharon can be cut back severely if necessary.

Be sure not to prune spring flowering shrubs during the winter. Plants like azalea, rhododendron, pieris, forsythia, viburnum, weigelia and lilac should be pruned during the month after flowering.

Fruit trees should be pruned during the winter. Many people plant fruit trees and then forget them, never pruning them. Then they wonder why the fruit is stunted. Winter pruning will produce larger fruit the very next season. Orchardists spend their winters severely pruning their trees. I think they know what they are doing.

If you are still looking for things to do in the garden, it wouldnít hurt to get a head start on cleaning up. Winter winds bring in a lot of debris that accumulates in your flower beds. There are occasional nice winter days that allow you to get some chores out of the way.

For those people who want to save money and have fun at the same time, late winter is the time to plant your seeds for your spring garden. Tomatoes grown from seed save a lot of money. You can start flowers like impatiens in March to save a lot of money over the price of greenhouse grown plants. The amount you save could easily purchase grow lamps to make your indoor garden a thing to be proud of. Children especially like these indoor garden projects.

When the weather leaves you housebound for weeks on end, you can always read your seed catalogs and plan your garden. One of the most rewarding parts of gardening is imagining what can happen in the future. With a little planning, that imagining can turn into reality. That is what makes gardening so much fun.

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