It’s Winter! It’s Not To Late To… And It’s Not To Early For…

Once you call yourself a gardener, there is no reprieve. That means, there is always something that can be done in the garden. Early on, novice gardeners may feel deprived in the winter as they believe there is nothing worth focusing on or that winter is a vacation from gardening. But as your skills and knowledge increase, quite often so does your passion. Have no fear, Mar is here with a multitude of ideas to clue you in that “it’s not too late to….and it’s never too early for….”

Here we go:

Weather in New England is changing. What used to be three months of cold, snowy and freezing weather conditions is now quite often a forty or even fifty degree day. What a change! A day this warm is perfect for cleaning up debris from recent storms or putting down a bit of extra mulch on something that was recently planted the season before. It’s also a good time to trim and reshape flowering trees and assess any winter damage that may be ongoing and require immediate attention. Most of us aren’t tree experts and luckily there are professional arborists available. This is the perfect time to get in under the radar. If you wait until spring, a good arborist will be very busy. Prepaying or contracting for service throughout the season ensures that your trees get the attention they deserve and most likely will get you a discount.

Assess the situation. Take a walk in your garden with a pencil and pad of paper noting where you might want to move or divide a perennial. You may consider removing a tree or selective branches to allow more light into your garden beds. If you decide to remove a tree, plant another on your property in a strategic location that adds year-round interest because of its shape and bark.

Where is your garden lacking winter interest? Winter is the perfect time to assess where your garden design is coming up short. For example, a large bed of annual flowers leaves your flowerbed empty and unattractive for almost six months. I love to use annuals as a complement to my total garden design. I don’t spend a significant amount of time planting annuals. Instead I focus my energy on perennials. If you place some perennials such as ornamental grasses or small evergreens as anchors at the ends or center of the bed, there is plenty of room to add a few annuals of your choice. This way the bed is not empty and depressing. These perennials will provide visual interest throughout the year and your work is minimal.

Too early to mulch? Not for bulbs. Sometimes bulbs are forced out of the ground by what is called heaving. Heaving is when the ground pushes the bulb up and out as a result of the ground freezing and thawing multiple times. Each time it freezes, it contracts and may push the bulb up and out. An extra layer of mulch will protect the bulb and its roots from varying temperatures. If you have a large bed of bulbs, winter is a good time to give it an extra blanket of mulch.

I love wisteria. If you want it to flower, then it’s not too late to prune and it’s definitely not too early. Wisteria must be pruned twice a year, once in the early summer and again in the winter in February. I love being outside in the winter trimming my wisteria knowing that soon I will be sitting under a canopy of beautiful purple flowers. I fortunately also have a white wisteria and it too, is magical. For winter pruning, trim the long shoots down to three to five buds. You will also want to trim any long unruly shoots remaining from the previous season. Make sure your shears are sharp and that you make a clean cut.

What shape are your gardening tools in? Winter is the perfect time to take care of the nitty and the gritty. Are your gardening tools functioning, i.e., is your lawn mower working, are your tillers tilling and your tools sharp? You want to make sure that your hand and pruning shears have a good edge so they won’t damage your plants. Take them to your neighborhood hardware store for sharpening.

Where do your birds live? How about offering a nesting place for our fine-feathered friends? Winter is the perfect time to offer the birds in your area a place to rest and feed. Purchase a book about the birds in your area. Keep it handy so that you can identify which type of bird you have on your property. This is great for kids of all ages. Birdseed is readily available. I only feed mine in the winter when food sources are limited.

February is a great time to force branches of flowering trees and shrubs. Trim small branches of Forsythia, Bradford Pear, Crabapple, Ornamental Cherry, Lilac, Pussy Willow and Magnolia. Place them in a large container of warm water. Trim the ends at an angle two inches above the original cut and place in temperate water in a large vase. Flower preservative is a good idea but not necessary.

And there you have it.