Things to Do for the Garden in Winter
"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant."
Here are some gardening things that have occupied us for the winter, & may occupy you if you've been feeling withdrawal pains from winter not being generally regarded as a gardening season:
- Work on a website about the garden.
- There are bound to be a couple of weedy areas that have never been planted. After a heavy rainfall the remaining weeds pull loose with great ease & the soil is easily turned over with some compost to get a head start on spring. Sometimes I just turn sod or an ungardened weedy area upside down, put a covering of newspapers or cardboard over the top so that the grass & weeds will not grow back, & cover the newspaper with a topcoating of well-cooked compost. By spring it's ready to plant.
- Move portions of developing leafmold from areas where trees dropped a bazillion leaves, to areas that didn't get many leaves & can benefit from a topcoating of leafmold.
- Visit nurseries which cater to people with ponds & check out the bog & aquatic plants. Sure it's the wrong season & there won't be much. But if you are interested to find out what few pond & bog things are actually evergreen, now's the time. This has given me a new respect for rushes.
- Also visit nurseries with lots of shrubs & trees to assess winter appearance of sundry plants. If you've been the sort who buys only in spring or on the basis of fully leafed & flowering items, you may end up with gardens not so interesting in winter with too many annuals that vanished entirely, perennials that died to the ground, & brittle twiggy shrubs that look puny & dull without their leaves. Assessing for shape of limbs when leafless, for aesthetic quality of the barks, limb & twig coloration, finding out more about plants that look deciduous but are actually semi-evergreen or evergreen, & noting how some shrubs like Pink Dawn Verbanum or Witchhazel or Carnellian Cherry are in full bloom in the wintertime, is worth knowing so that as you develop your gardens during the coming year you'll be including things that make the garden a big thrill in winter too. The illustration above, for example, is a detail of our Corkscrew Filbert in early March, all a-dangle with the catkins it has sported in full bloom since December (& as hard catkin buds earlier than that) -- so with its bared windy limbs & its wonderful golden chains, winter's truly it's best season! With knowledge of winter appearances fresh in mind, assess your own primary gardening areas that are favorites in spring through fall, to figure out what you can add or do that will make them favorites in winter too.
- Read. Research things you either already have but don't know enough about, or which you think you might want in the future, or even research to find out about the botanists for whom your favorite plants are named. Just as stamp collectors are exposed to geography & history lessons by what they've accumulated, so too can gardeners learn about the geography & weather patterns of their favorite plants' original homelands & the biographies of those frequently adventuresome botanists who risked their lives in the Himalayas or Darkest Africa or Pacific islands or Tasmania all for love of flora.
- Dig a compost trench.
- Repair arbors & trellises while growth is minimal & plants won't be upset.
- Buy some year-end bulbs for half-price or less & don't worry that it's a bit late in the year to plant them, they'll do just fine.
- Organize shelving areas in front of windows to best display houseplants. Get rid of ugly drapes that were never closed anyway. Reinforce the curtain rod for hanging baskets.
- Place rocks in aesthetically strategic locations & move in soil behind or between the rocks, or prep for raised beds, in order to be ready for new planting at the first hint of spring.
- Transplant shrubs which will resettle best in autumn or (in temperate zones) in winter. Moved shrubs will "awaken" in spring far less shocked, barely realizing they're in a new spot.
- Get out the step-ladder & tie back select limbs that had grown awfully in the way of paths, so that they won't be in the way when leaves return in spring. When in full leaf it's much harder to tell what can be bound back to where, so winter's the time.
- Look at sky through naked limbs, very pretty.
- Appreciate mosses & lichens on branches which are not visible when trees & large bushes are fully leafed.
- Enjoy also the fewer but still marvelous winter-blooming perennials you carefully researched & scattered throughout your garden. These will include autumn-bloomers that are still blooming in winter such as kaffir lilies, spring bloomers that actually get such a jump on spring that really they are winter bloomers, such as so many crocus species; & of course the true winter bloomers like hardy evergreen primroses or Cyclamens.
- When thinking of potential winter bloomers for your garden, include in the idea of "blooms" the colorful berries that decorate many types of shrubs & trees through the winter. There can be the black berries of Japanese Holly, red berries of cotoneasters & hawthorns & English holly & lingonberries & wintergreen; white snowberries, & so many choices there's just no reason to be without vibrant colors amidst winter shrubbery.
- Visit pottery studios & nurseries on quest for a big fancy-ass containers that'd make pleasing "forest bowls" that can be partially recessed into ground to create another bog spot, in preparation to obtain skunk-cabbages or pitcher plants or other semi-aquatics.
- Dig up & compost plants that were huge mistakes either because butt ugly or because they turned out to be invasive. It's kinder to kill them in their sleep.
- Some closed-in or hillside deeply planted areas are most of the year so thickly leafed with shrubs & trees & understory plants that they can only be accessed & assessed after leaves have fallen & even then it's a squeeze. Check for erosion areas, rock placement to negate possibility of erosion, cart in dirt & humus where needed, or remove excess accumulations of fallen leaves & needles & do general clean-up. Figure out underlimbing or pruning schedule if any pruning is apt to be needed.
- Gaze longingly at the spot that is perfect for a greenhouse & whimper that you don't have one.
- Keep feeding the birds.
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