So it's winter, or at least, colder weather. We know, it's depressing for one simple fact, the gardens are asleep.
No more pruning the plants, no more planting new shrubs, no more fun in the garden... well at least for now. However, we have some winter gardening ideas that will help the season go quick. Our suggestions should help you pass the time, so at least you can get your hands into SOMETHING.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list. It's just a way to get your creative juices flowing!
A lot of this advice is, of course, weather dependent. For instance, if you live in an area with snow on the ground for a majority of the winter, some of these things may not apply. However, if you live in an area that sees a roller coaster of temperatures, where sometimes the mercury climbs through the 40's, 50's or more, many of these things can certainly happen.
Here are 8 of our winter gardening ideas.
Cutting Back Perennial Flowers
One activity that could be done in late fall is cutting back your perennials. However, if you're as busy as we are, you may not get to it in October or November. Then the holidays arrive and before you know it, it's January.
We have been known to cut back perennials in Januaury if we don't have snow on the ground.
There are 2 schools of thought when it comes to cutting back perennials.
One group advises to NOT cut them back so that wildlife, birds specifically, have something to eat during the winter. Indeed, birds need food during the winter and leaving dead perennial flowers such as cone flowers, back eyed susans, sunflowers and others will make their seeds available to birds.
On the other hand, bird feeders will also help sustain birds during the winter, so you may find that sufficient and want to cut back your perennials.
The other group says you should cut back perennials to make your gardens look better. After all, gardens full of dead flowers can be unsightly.
Here's an idea. If you have gardens both in the front and back of your house and you don't go out into your backyard during the winter, why not just attend to the front? Cut back perennials in the front where you'll see them every day as you come and go and leave the ones in the back yard that are not seen much.
The choice is yours. If you don't cut them back in late fall or winter, you will need to do it before they start to emerge in the spring anyway.
Garden Cleaning For Winter
Cutting back perennials flowers is one way to clean out a garden but in addition, you'll have other debris that needs to be removed. In addition to flowering perennials, there are also other perennials that die back, things like hostas, bleeding heart and more, that will have died and the leaves will need to be removed.
Most of the time you can just pull this dead debris with your hands and it will break off easily but cutting it back to the ground with pruners will also do the trick.
In addition, you'll probably have fallen leaves, twigs and branches, and other debris that should be removed to help the overall appearance during the winter.
Winter Mulch For That Finished Look
The idea of mulching your gardens for the winter is not something most people would think of and, if that's you, that would be a mistake.
As pro landscapers, many times we have to convince our clients that they should do it.
Why? Because it give the gardens a fresh look, even if they lacking plants.
This is especially a good idea if you live in an area where the ground is often bare during the winter.
Of course, having snow on the ground a majority of the winter negates this benefit, but when the snow melts, as it often does in moderate climates, you'll be happy you did it.
Having fresh mulch on your gardens will make them look so much better, once you do it, you just may put that on your "must do" list of tasks for fall clean up.
Enjoy Flowering Plants During The Winter
With a little planning, and without doing any actual winter gardening, you can add flowering plants and shrubs to your gardens before the season arrives and enjoy them when nothing else is blooming.
Here are 5 plants that do well in the winter:
Those cute flowers with the faces actually flower during the off season.
Here in our region, pansies are used by almost all professional landscapers to fill a garden with flowers in the winter. Pansies don't do well in hot weather, perferring instead the cool and cold weather of fall, winter and spring. Plant them in the fall when your summer annuals don't have long.
They will bloom in cool and cold weather, provided there is enough sun and no snow on the ground. Exceptionally harsh winters aren't good for pansy flower blooms but otherwise, they will bloom through the season.
Note: Deer love pansies! If you have a deer problem, you will need to be proactive to protect them. See our posting on this site about keeping deer away.
(Lenten Rose - Christmas Rose)
We love this plant because it's one of the few perennials that flowers during cooler weather AND likes sun during the winter and shade during the summer.
There are about 15 varieties but the 2 most popular are named for the time of the year they bloom the Christmas Rose (niger) which blooms early in the season in warmer climates and Lenten Rose which usually blooms around the Christian holiday of Easter and Lent.
Although white flowers are the prevalent one, lately there have been other colors coming to your garden center.
The flowers are big, the foliage is evergreen and stays the size of a small shrub.
Yellow flowers with that sunny disposition!
This plant is actually a vine that establishes itself easily.
It usually flowers in late winter, before leaves come out on the trees, so it's an excellent choice to enjoy some off season flowers.
The name that sounds scary, but it's really not.
This plant is actually a large shrub, which is a good choice because it will take up room in your garden where you might need something big, plus it has the added benefit of flowering during the winter when almost everything is brown.
In addition, witch hazel has been know to have medicinal qualities. You can find out more about those by READING THIS ARTICLE
Red Twig Dogwood
Interesting bark is part of this plant's draw
While not a flower per say, the Red Twig Dogwood will provide winter interest in your gardens because of the color of the bark - red, of course.
In addition, Dogwoods typically flower in the spring, so you'll get some beatuful flowers as the weather warms.
This is an ornamental tree, staying relatively small so we would recommend using it as a focal point in any garden.
Tool And Equipment Maintenance
Winter is a great time to do some off season maintenance - both to your tools and equipment.
For us, it's important to get our power equipment tuned up in the off season. Things like mowers, trimmers, weed eaters, etc. should all get attention.
At the very least, empty the gas out of everything.
For one, gas can go bad if it sits in equipment for a length of time. Plus, with equipment using a 2-cycle oil and gas mixture, it's very, very important to do this. The ethanol used in today's gas WILL damage the carburetors of power equipment if the gas remains in them. If you're using gas without ethanol (good luck finding that) then it's not as much of an issue.
Art and I have to chuckle but also feel sorry for people we see struggling to start equipment. We rarely have problems with equipment starting, and it's because of our maintenance. Our business depends on our equipment running so we take it seriously. So should you.
In addition to your equipment, your tools could also use some TLC. Clean them of dirt and debris and wipe them clean to prevent rust. polish and sharpen your spade and other cutting tools and store them out of the winter elements.
Outdoor Decorations For The Seasons
While this might seem obvious, we think it's not.
You can include your seasonal decorations in the list of the most favorite winter gardening passtimes - at least in our book. This is an excellent way to fuel that gardening passion in the winter.
While we know it's not actually planting or seeing plants grow, it certainly gets you involved with plants - weather it's garland on the fence as above, live holly arrangements as swags on the exterior of windows, or any number of other things you can do to add that festive vide to your outdoors.
Sure you have to bring them in come January - but why not extend the season by decorating outside in December? We think so!
Designing New Gardens
A great winter passtime is to start planning out that new garden bed you've been wanting. This is a winter gardening idea that a lot of people probably have not thought of doing, but you certainly can. At least draw out the shape. Then decide on some or all of the plants you'll be using.
I know for us, sometimes we don't plan out the ACTUAL plants, because we like to visit the garden center to get ideas. However, we do usually know where we want large shrubs, small shrubs, ornamental trees and flowers.
For example, we might have an idea for a curved bed that we've drawn out and even though we don't know the exact plants, we know we'll have an ornamental tree, border plants, shrubs, a spot for summer annuals, etc so we'll draw that out and then decide on the actual plants once we see what's available at the store.
Prepping New Garden Beds
Now that you've drawn out that new garden bed, you can actually prep the bed if the ground is not too frozen. I know there have been many winters here in our region where it's been no problem getting outside at certain times in January and February to do this.
Mark your bed-line's using either a garden hose or landscaping paint. We'd recommend using a garden hose because if you use paint, and you don't have the line exactly where you want it, you'll be painting more lines in your lawn. Pretty soon you'll have many lines of paint in your lawn and you'll be using only one of them.
A garden hose works much better for this because you can experiment with the bed-line - moving the hose this way and that, until you get the bed-line exactly where you want it.
Next, if your ground isn't frozen take your spade and dig a trench next to the hose, marking your bed-line.
If you want to continue on, you can prep the bed in it's entirety by adding soil amendments and tilling it into the ground. However, this type of bed prep might best be done in the spring, when it's less cold and more enjoyable. This isn't the only way to prep your garden bed though. We've got a post that goes over this process in great detail. Visit that posting.
Indoor Winter Gardening
You can continue your gardening indoors by planting pots of indoor plants.
In addition, as winter goes on, you can start plants indoors from seed. Vegetables are a great choice to start indoors, but that's not all. Start your summer annuals indoors from seed as well - things like marigolds, geraniums, impatients and more can all be started indoors and moved outdoors once the weather cooperates.
All plants will need light and water to varying degrees, so make sure you read up on the plants you want to use, then go for it. Check back for a posting on starting plants indoors from seed.
Although we've mentioned some winter flowering plants above, you'll find a lot more info in our easy to understand plant guide section.
So there you have it. Some winter gardening ideas that should keep you busy during the cold winter months when most people want to curl up on the couch with a good book.