Winter is no excuse for slacking in the garden. Unless there is snow on the ground, there are plenty of chores to keep you occupied, tending to your garden. Plus, there are even a couple of bonuses to winter gardening: you definitely won’t get overheated, and you’ll have a beautiful yard come springtime!
Winter Garden Care: 10 Tips for Treating Your Garden in the Cold Months
Image credit: Neslihan Gunaydin
1. Add an Evergreen
If the ground isn’t frozen, winter is a great time to add the evergreen tree or shrub you’ve been wishing you had. The winter and spring rains will give the root system time to settle in before the heat of summer arrives. You’ll want to make sure you mulch the new planting well, so it has some protection from winter weather.
2. Plant Bulbs for Spring Color
When you see beautiful blooms around town come springtime, it is already too late to plant them in your own yard. Lovely bulbs that come back year after year, such as crocuses, tulips and daffodils, require a good winter’s sleep below the soil. While you most often see them on display in the fall, it is certainly okay to add them to your yard in the winter, as long as the soil isn’t too frozen to dig into.
3. Add a Layer of Mulch
While mulch in a flower bed or around trees can help deter weeds and hold in moisture during hot months, it performs an even more important job in winter. Mulch helps to protect plant roots from a harsh winter. It also holds in moisture during a winter dry spell. It’s a good idea to get mulch on plants before the first freeze, but there isn’t a time limit to performing this much-needed task, so it can be done in winter months as well. Adding a layer of mulch not only protects your plants, but the top-dressing really tidies up your yard and gives it great curb appeal.
4. Use Stow Away Containers
Enjoy your beautiful container gardens for another season by protecting them from the winter elements. Beautiful pottery and clay pots are often ruined by spring if left continually wet during freezing and thawing temperatures. Because the pots hold moisture, freezing weather can result in them cracking or even shattering. For best results, empty pots of soil, then move them to a dry location such as a garden shed, garage, carport or basement, or tuck them under the house.
5. Cut Back Perennials
If you haven’t cleaned up your perennials, then winter is the time to perform that task. Your yard and flower beds will look much tidier after you remove debris from the previous blooming season. Since perennials come back from underneath the ground each spring, the brown, dead stems of the summer are unneeded, and you can remove the clutter from your garden. If your browned perennials contain flowers with seeds on them, you might want to leave them for the birds. Ornamental grasses, although brown, can look great in the winter landscape. Wait until the end of winter before cutting those back to make way for spring growth.
6. Organize Your Seeds
It’s easy to get caught up in spring and summer gardening and have multiple open seed packets. After all, the typical packet contains many more tiny seeds than we might use in a small garden. Gather your seeds together and make sure they are dry, then close up each seed packet. You can store them in zippered plastic bags or organize them in a small file box—just make sure to label each package. Store the seeds in a cool, dark location.
7. Clean and Oil Tools
Winter is the right time to do a little bit of maintenance on hand tools. During gardening season, they are in and out of the ground and shed so often that proper care becomes neglected. Take time during the winter to clean your hand tools, such a trowels, shovels and pruners:• Clean off dirt and remove rust with sandpaper or a wire brush.
• Rub in a coat of oil to help prevent rust, making sure to oil any moving parts.
• Wooden handles can have splinters removed with a bit of sanding, and would also benefit from some oil.
• Blades and tools can be sharpened. There type of sharpener to use depends on the tool, so check with an expert at your garden center to select the appropriate one.
8. Stow Away Lawn Equipment
You might be disappointed in the spring when your motorized lawn equipment doesn’t start or perform like you expected. Freezing and thawing can harm your equipment, so consult a professional or take time to read your owner’s manual for instructions on how to properly stow equipment during times of non-use and inclement weather. Winter is also a great time to perform routine maintenance and sharpen blades before the spring rush.
9. Send off a Soil Sample
If you were less than satisfied with your turf or garden results this past year, then you don’t want to repeat the same steps in the coming year. Begin to make a change in your yard by collecting a soil sample during the winter, then have it analyzed. Many states offer this service through their agriculture extension service. Local landscape companies may also test your soil for you, and garden centers often sell soil test kits as well. The results of a soil test will help you adjust nutrients in your garden or yard for better results.
10. Prune Roses
Late winter, just before spring hits, you’ll want to prune your roses. Often, time flies by without this late-winter task getting accomplished, so it is great to add a reminder to your calendar. Exact timing depends on where you live, but pruning is generally done when the buds begin swelling. The general rule is to prune an established rose to half its size. Choose your cuts above an outward facing bud, and use this pruning time to shape the rose bush.
Getting started on these tasks in the winter months, from mulching to pruning, can help save you time and effort when preparing your garden in the spring. Don’t let the cold weather keep you from spending quality time with your plants!
This article was written by Lea Schneider. Lea Schneider is an avid gardener and has previously worked for a professional flower grower. Lea now writes on gardening and other topics for The Home Depot. To research mulch and other winter gardening topics discussed by Lea, you can visit Home Depot's website here.
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