Gardening doesn’t stop just because winter has set in. We gardeners find plenty of ways to keep busy until spring calls us outdoors again.
Satisfy your urge to garden by tending to your houseplants. Beyond regular watering and feeding, clean the leaves, trim dead foliage and flowers, and re-pot plants as necessary.
Watch for pests that may attack houseplants or outdoor plants that spend the winter indoors. Take quick action if you begin to see aphids, mealybugs, scale or spider mites. A shower of lukewarm water may take care of light infestations of many insects.
Herbs and summer annuals that you may be growing indoors on a sunny windowsill should be pinched back periodically to keep them from becoming too tall and leggy. If plants are not getting enough sunlight, you may need to move them to a brighter location, or grow them under lights. Provide a dose of houseplant fertilizer every few weeks throughout the winter.
Save that poinsettia from Christmas to grow in your garden next spring. Place the pot in bright, indirect light and continue to water enough to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. After the danger of frost passes, place the pot outdoors and cut back the stems. It should continue to grow into a bushy, green plant that will die back at the first hint of frost next fall.
Watch the garden beds for signs of “heaving” – uprooting of plants by thawing and freezing soil. Tuck the plants’ roots back into the soil and cover with a layer of mulch.
The blooms of hellebores are beginning to brighten the landscape in some areas. Cut back last year’s dried foliage to allow new buds and foliage to thrive. If you’re planting hellebores for the first time, prepare a bed of well-drained soil. Hellebores will tolerate shade, but bloom better if they receive adequate sunlight, and should thrive for years with little maintenance.
If the soil isn’t frozen, it’s a good time to plant a tree. Dig a hole that is wider than the rootball, but no deeper. Place the rootball in the hole, fill the hole about halfway with soil, make final adjustments, then fill the rest of the hole and add water. Plant the tree only as deep as it grew originally. Add mulch, but do not mound mulch or soil up around the trunk.
Winter is a good time to prune deciduous trees, while they are dormant. Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees now; to do so would cut off the buds that would bloom this spring.
Bring spring in early by forcing paperwhite narcissus bulbs in pots indoors. Grow them in soil or in water. They’ll bloom quickly and fill your home with a lovely (some say overwhelming) sweet fragrance.
Peruse mail-order catalogs or their online equivalent for new ideas and old favorites to add to your garden this spring.
Feeling house-bound? Cure cabin fever by getting out on a sunny day to pick up dry leaves, twigs and other garden debris that may have accumulated on lawns and in garden beds.
Welcome the birds by keeping feeders filled. Safflower seed attracts cardinals, tufted titmice, chickadees and more. A suet feeder draws woodpeckers, flickers and nuthatches. Take part in the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 12 – 15. Learn more at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/
In some areas, annual weeds that thrive in winter grow easily in cultivated perennial and vegetable beds. Dig them out or pull them up as soon as they begin to sprout to keep them from spreading.
Liriope (aka monkey grass or lilyturf) in the landscape benefits from a little winter maintenance: trim last year’s foliage before the new growth begins to emerge.
Houseplants that like humidity may suffer in the heat inside your home. Add humidity around the plants by lining a waterproof tray with stones, filling the tray with water and placing the plants on top of the stones.
Summer annuals can grow indoors over the winter, but they tend to get leggy if they’re not getting enough light. Move them to a sunnier spot, if possible, or grow them under lights.
It’s a good time to have your soil tested to find out what amendments might be needed. Contact your county’s extension office to learn how to have a soil test done
Bring the promise of spring indoors by cutting branches of spring-flowering shrubs (forsythia, flowering quince and so forth) to force into bloom. Scrape the ends of 12- to 18-inch branches and place them in a container of warm water. Place the container in a dark, cool spot at first, then move it to a sunnier place when the buds begin to open.
The 2016 gardening season may begin late in February in some climates! In the kitchen garden, plant cool-season vegetables such as snap peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, beets, kale, mustard, bunching onions, turnip roots and greens. In colder climates, start those seeds indoors so you have transplants ready to set out in the garden when the time comes.
Begin making plans for spring and summer garden beds. If you grow a kitchen garden, begin to start seeds indoors so they will be ready at the appropriate outdoor planting time.