Winter Garden Chores to Do Now

Exercise your green thumb in the off-season with these useful winter garden chores.

December 05, 2019
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Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Ice on Trees

When ice covers trees and shrubs, ditch the temptation to shake branches. This can actually damage plants. Branches should return to normal position once ice melts. If branches break under the icy weight, prune only what’s necessary to prevent further damage — and wait to do it when conditions are safe. Pruning with ice underfoot is never a good idea.

Feed the Birds

Hang bird feeders and keep them well-stocked through winter. Black oil sunflower seed attracts the widest variety of birds. Safflower seed is a good choice when you want to offer something that squirrels and house sparrows dislike. Try mixing both types of seed in a feeder to serve a beak-pleasing buffet that beckons black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals and woodpeckers.

Grow Amaryllis

Grab an amaryllis bulb kit to fill your home with the stately splendor of these big blooms. Plant several types in the same pot to create a colorful indoor garden. After flowers fade, snip blossom stems at the base. Continue to grow the leaves through winter and plan to set plants outside for the summer if you want to have bulbs bloom again next year.

Provide Fresh Water

Give local birds a place to sip and bathe all winter long by using a water heater or heated birdbath. Keep the water filled and fresh, cleaning the bath as needed. If your bath is deep, add a few rocks to provide perches for smaller birds.

Plant Rooted Cuttings

Take time during winter to plant cuttings you took of summer annuals. Once cuttings develop roots, shift them into pots filled with a commercial soilless mix — the kind you use to fill containers for summer annuals. Tuck cuttings into small pots four or five inches wide. Keep soil moist after planting until you see new growth.

Create a Winter Container Garden

Dress up spent summer and fall container gardens with boughs of fresh evergreens for a colorful winter display. Greens like spruce, fir, mountain hemlock and Virginia pine retain color and needles to provide a long winter display. Treat cut greenery with an anti-transpirant to help stems retain moisture. Use bunched ornamental grass stems or bundled branches to add a strong vertical element to designs.

Shovel Snow

As you shift snow to clear walks and driveways, take care to place it where it won’t crush woody plants, like roses and shrubs. If you live in a snow-prone region, you might want to fill areas where you or the local snowplow toss snow with perennials and shrubs you cut back in spring, like butterfly bush, Russian sage and beautyberry.

Prevent Deer Damage

Take action to protect prized shrubs from deer browsing. If you spot hoof prints in the snow, you need to act fast to prevent plant damage. Netting tossed over shrubs can prevent feeding. Use clothespins to hold the netting in place, attaching it to a few branches. Spray plants with a deer repellant to make twigs less tasty.

Watch for Winter Bark Feeding

As food sources become scarce, rabbits, mice and voles can make quick work of bark on unprotected trees and shrubs. Use tree guards around young tree trunks, and surround shrubs with hardware mesh. You can also try to attract raptors like owls and hawks, which prey on these mammals, by erecting artificial perch poles.

Check Out Evergreens

Evergreen shrubs bring a winter landscape to life. When the snow falls, take time to notice plantings around you, noting evergreen forms that you like. A mix of needle types and broadleaf evergreens creates a striking winter scene that also looks good in other seasons.

Treat for Houseplant Pests

Indoors, keep an eye on houseplants, especially any you kept outdoors for summer. Pests multiply quickly in the warm environs of a winter home. This vining violet is infested with spider mites, which are very difficult to eradicate on indoor plants. The white speckling on leaf surfaces is a clue mites are feeding. Webbing where the leaf attaches to the stem is another dead giveaway.

Water Houseplants

Dry winter air causes houseplants to dry out quickly. At the very least, check plants weekly to assess soil moisture. Sticking a finger onto — or even into — soil is an easy way to determine if plants need a drink. With small plants, lifting the pot is another good way to figure out how moist soil is. Dry soil is light; wet soil is heavier. Soil color also changes as moisture evaporates. Wet soil is dark; dry soil is lighter in color.

Feed the Compost Pile

Keep adding kitchen waste to your compost pile through winter. If your compost is buried in snow, stash waste in a trash can with a tightly fitting lid through winter. Store the trash can outside in an easily accessible spot. Use a liner or not — it’s up to you. In spring, after the first few inches on the compost have thawed, remove the top layer, add your winter waste, then cover. Burying the kitchen waste helps reduce odors and prevents critter foraging.

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