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A gardener's survival list for winter

January 20, 2010 Areawide No Comments
Photo by Cheryl Pedemonti.

Photo by Cheryl Pedemonti.

Are you a hard core gardener suffering from withdrawal symptoms during the winter months?  Would you rather be digging in your garden instead of shoveling snow? Are you counting down to Groundhog Day when we find out if winter is almost over?

If so, then here are a few ideas to help you survive the long, cold days of winter.

First, make sure your garden offers four seasons of interest.

If your garden was lacking interest during late summer, autumn or winter, you should research plants that will offer color or interesting foliage or shapes during these seasons.

Add these plants to your garden first thing in spring, before you get carried away by all the spring bloomers that will be showcased early on at the garden center.

Concentrate these plantings where they will be viewed outside the window or near entryways.  Choose plants with evergreen foliage, colorful stems or bark, and persistent fruit (i.e. berries).

Ornamental grasses are very important during the winter months. Their wheat colored foliage and wispy seedheads create lots of interest.

A winter planter filled with evergreens and bright red berries

A winter planter filled with evergreens and bright red berries

Don’t let your outdoor planters remain empty during the winter.  Fill them with evergreen branches, colorful stems or anything else you find interesting.

For the birds

Colorful birds such as Woodpeckers, Finches, Cardinals and Bluebirds add interest to the winter garden, too.

Some birds prefer eating fruit, while others will eat seeds from bird feeders or suet cakes.

The two most popular shrubs in my garden as a food source for the birds are Winterberry and Viburnum species.  Many birds overwinter in my garden and find shelter in evergreen trees, shrubs or wood nesting boxes.

A bright red male Cardinal

A bright red male Cardinal

Now is the time to design

Winter is a great time of year to reflect on your garden’s success and failures.

Did you take photos of your garden or make notes in a journal expressing your joys or disappointments?  Take time to review your notes and work up design changes that will be made to your garden in the spring.

Did you try a new cultivar that you really liked? Find empty spots in your garden to add a few more of these plants.

Did you have a problem with pests or diseases in your garden?  Get ready to fight them when new growth appears in spring.  If it was an insect pest, learn all you can about its life cycle.  Eliminate eggs or larvae in the spring to prevent future generations from taking hold in your garden.  If necessary, eliminate the host plant from your garden to prevent the increase in population of the pest.  The tiny red Lily Leaf Beetle has become a menace so I will remove all my asiatic lilies from the garden this spring.

Looking ahead to the flower shows

There’s nothing like a flower show during the winter months to lift your spirits.  The Connecticut Flower and Garden Show will be held Feb. 18-21st at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

“The Spice of Life” is the theme for this year’s show.  Additional information can be found here: http://www.ctflowershow.com/index.html.

2009 CT Flower Show

2009 CT Flower Show

If one garden show is not enough, you can head to the Boston Flower Show during March 24-28th at the Seaport World Trade Center.

More information can be found here: http://www.masshort.org/Blooms-2010.

If you want to enjoy a flower show outside of New England, you could plan a winter vacation to Pennsylvania and combine the Philadelphia Flower Show (Feb. 28-March 7) with a visit to Longwood Gardens.  This public garden is considered the world’s premier horticultural display garden and is gorgeous to look at any time of year.

For those of you who aren’t afraid of the cold, you can stroll through Longwood’s outdoor garden displays to find ideas for your own winter garden.

Longwood Gardens has 20 indoor gardens contained within four acres of heated greenhouses.  Their winter program, entitled “Orchid Extravaganza”, runs from Jan. 23 to March 31 and includes plant displays, concerts and a Valentine’s dinner.  More information can be found here:  http://www.longwoodgardens.org/default.html.

Elizabeth Park Greenhouse during the spring bulb show.

Elizabeth Park Greenhouse during the spring bulb show.

Visit your local greenhouses

Local commercial greenhouses can be visited in the winter if you need a boost of balmy temperatures.

Logee’s Greenhouse is located in Danielson and it is a pleasant drive to get there as you pass through picturesque towns.

Take advantage of the greenhouses located within botanical gardens or on college campuses.  I enjoyed an interesting guided tour at UConn’s greenhouse where I discovered all types of unusual plant life.

Smith College in Northampton, Mass. offers a spring bulb show in the Lyman Conservatory from March 6-21.  More info can be found at their website: http://www.smith.edu/garden/home.html.

Elizabeth Park in Hartford offers winter gardening lectures, in addition to their own bulb show in the greenhouse in March.  The exact date was not listed on their website but should be posted within the next few weeks.  For info go to their website: http://www.elizabethpark.org/

Wooden folk art can remain in the garden year round

Wooden folk art can remain in the garden year round

A plethora of catalogs

If you prefer to hibernate inside for the winter, you can feast on a smorgasbord of mail order catalogs for seeds, bulbs and a vast array of plants.

Compile a wish list of all the items you want to include in your spring planting.  If you find an “ordinary” plant that you like in a catalog, I suggest you purchase it from your local garden center in the spring.  You will usually get a larger plant for the same amount of money.

Put in your order now with the garden center and the owner will be sure to have it in stock for you.

On the other hand, if you see an unusual species that you can’t find locally, you should place your order through the catalog.  Be sure to confirm the size of the plant you are ordering through the catalog as most are smaller sizes.  You don’t want to be disappointed when you open up the carton and find a tiny plant that could take years to grow into something substantial.

Herbs can be grown on a sunny windowsill

Herbs can be grown on a sunny windowsill

Houseplant TLC

Do you crave the feeling of dirt underneath your fingernails?  Winter is a good time to give your houseplants some TLC.  Remove them from their pots, trim their roots if they are twisted and tangled, and then repot them in fresh potting soil.  Wipe the dust off their leaves and give them a dose of fertilizer to bring them back into prime condition.

Herbs can be grown on a sunny window sill and you can enjoy their culinary delight throughout winter when preparing hearty stews or soup.

In another month or so, you can start seeds indoors but they require a great deal of light, so plan on investing in florescent grow lights. Keep the lights turned on for at least 12 hours per day. If seedlings do not receive adequate light, they will be weak and spindly.

Plant bulbs indoors

Do you have spring blooming bulbs that never made it into the ground this fall?  Plant them in pots and store them in a cold, dark area for at least 8 weeks (don’t allow them to freeze).  When green tips begin to appear, bring them into a cool room in your home.

When the flower buds appear, move the pots into a sunny room.  You will enjoy their colorful blooms before you know it.

If forcing bulbs is not your thing, you can purchase bulbs already potted up and ready to bloom.  Another alternative is to purchase flowering houseplants for winter color.

Flowering house plants brighten up the home in winter

Flowering house plants brighten up the home in winter

Catch up on tool care

Winter is a good time to clean and sharpen your gardening tools, such as hand pruners or loppers.  The same goes for your garden spade and mower blades.

To begin the clean up, use a wire brush to remove dirt. Remove rust with steel wool or light sandpaper.

After cleaning, spray the metal parts with a lubricant oil to discourage rust.

File edges on tools to sharpen them if needed. Be sure to file in one direction only.

Smooth any rough surfaces on wooden tool handles with sandpaper, then apply a coat of linseed oil.  As an alternative, you can paint the handle a bright color to make it easier to find your tools after setting them down in the garden.

And while you are in the cleaning mode, take time to prepare your clay pots for spring.  Scrub them up, dip them in a household bleach solution and store them in a frost-free area.

Take a class

Do you want to learn more about the art of landscaping?  There are numerous sources to fulfill your quest for knowledge, such as horticulture seminars, adult education classes or garden club presentations.

The UConn 2010 Conference for the Home Gardener will be held at the Storrs campus on March 12t and offers national garden speakers. If you want to learn more about this seminar, check out their website at http://www.hort.uconn.edu/2010garden/.

I hope these suggestions help you to get through the tough winter months of January, February and March.  Before you know it, we will be back into the gardening routine when the early spring sun starts to warm the earth and our spirits!

Persistent fruit on the Winterberry shrub

Persistent fruit on the Winterberry shrub

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