by Matt Gibson
Though winter is not the most active time for gardeners, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do. In fact, a serious gardener puts the winter to use in multiple ways which will pay dividends throughout the year. Winter gardening tasks are not just busy work, but activities that prepare you and your plot for the upcoming growing season and beyond. Read on to learn about all of the different ways that you can keep the rust off of your gardening gear throughout the cold season, and keep your green thumb strong and limber.
What do you do with your garden in the winter?
The following 12 tasks will get you ready for the upcoming growing season and give you plenty to do during the winter months.
Before diving headfirst into any major undertakings in preparation for spring gardening, it is important to have all of the tools of the trade ready at hand. What better way to get things rolling in preparation for the spring than to do some spring cleaning a few months in advance? Your gardening supplies and work area can easily become a disaster area during the growing season, as bed maintenance, plant care, harvesting, and storing tasks are all of higher importance on the to-do list than cleaning and organizing.
If you are anything like me, your shed and workspace look like a tornado hit them at the end of the fall. Once everything is in its right place, it will be much easier to dive into projects without being distracted by all the clutter. If you already have a system in place, tidy things up a bit and get everything back where it belongs. If your workspace is still a work in progress, now is the perfect time to start deciding how best to organize the stuff you have and make room for new stuff that you will need for upcoming tasks.
Build hangars and shelving units to store your tools and supplies, cleaning and sweeping up dirt and debris as you go along. Empty seed trays, plant pots, planter boxes, hanging baskets, and other various containers should be emptied and cleaned thoroughly with hot, soapy water to reduce the chance of pests and disease. Once cleaned and dried, put each type of item up with like items so that everything will be easy to find when you need it.
Gather up your gardening tools and take an inventory of everything that you have. Clean up your gear as best you can, sharpen and oil or replace dull blades. Once you have everything together, make a list of anything that needs to be replaced. Check out this article which features six useful gardening tools that every gardener should own. If you have a bit of extra money to invest in gardening supplies, take a look at this list of the best new gardening tools available and decide if there is anything that you want to add to your arsenal or anything that’s already in your toolkit that you think it’s time to replace.
Start (Or Expand) Composting
Composting begins to slow down as temperatures drop, which is the perfect time for maintenancing your heap. If you haven’t started composting yet, don’t wait any longer to get rolling. Composting is eco-friendly, surprisingly fun, highly beneficial, and it will save you lots of money on potting soil each year. If you already have a composting system in place, consider expanding your operation by adding a second heap or a worm farm also known as Bokashi composting.
Build New Garden Beds
Maintenance your old beds or tear them down and start anew. If your old beds are still in pretty good shape, consider adding another one to the mix, if space allows. Raised beds are easy to assemble and relatively cheap to make, especially if you have your own compost to use when amending the soil. Click here to learn how to make your own raised beds.
Befriend The Birds
A garden without visitors can be a lonely place and winter is a tough season for the avian population. If you don’t have any garden features to attract birds to your garden getaway, start this winter by adding a bird feeder, birdbath, birdhouse, hummingbird feeder, or simply by leaving a few berries on a plant instead of harvesting them all for yourself. Birdseed is incredibly cheap too, so it’s super easy to lend a helping hand to your local bird population.
Organize Seeds And Order More
Take an inventory of the seeds you have on hand and place an order for what you lack and perhaps a few plants you have never grown before to try out in the upcoming growing seasons. Alternatively, make a list of your shortages and make a trip to your local nursery to stock up on seeds for spring.
Check Stored Bulbs and Tubers
If you are storing bulbs and/or tubers for future planting, be sure to check them once per month to insure that there is no mold or extra moisture present. Discard any moldy roots immediately and mist any bulbs or tubers that were in the near vicinity of the affected roots before returning them to storage.
Mulch and Cover
Frost fleece or a light blanket placed over your plants can go a long way towards keeping them alive during freezing or near freezing temperatures, so even if you don’t have any indoor space that you can dedicate to overwintering, you may still be able to keep valued plants alive through the treacherous cold nights. Mulching your beds with organic mulch, or even leaves, straw, or pine needles, can help keep your plants alive during the winter. Mulch insulates the soil and helps protect roots from freezing temperatures. Winter mulching can actually keep some plants warm enough to allow you to continue harvesting during the winter.
Propagate your plants during the winter by taking hardwood cuttings. Even if you don’t need to add more plants to your collection, propagating some of your favorite shrubs, rose bushes, or berries can be great for thoughtful cost-free gifts for neighbors and friends.
Build A Cold Frame
You can easily extend your harvesting and growing season by building a cold frame to house and protect your plants from the harsh winter weather. Cold frames can be built from scratch, or you can repurpose some old furniture, doors, windows, and other large items. The doors are open to so many different possibilities, as cold frames can literally be constructed out of just about anything, such as bricks, bales of hay, scrapwood, and much more.
Add Something New and Exciting
Aside from a few new plants, add something new to the garden each year that expands your vision. Winter is the perfect time to decide on how you want to upgrade your garden space and put that plan into action. Perhaps a new walkway could be added with stepping stones or gravel to lead from one section of the garden to another. You may even decide to take on a major project like adding a water feature, like a small pond, or a water fountain to your garden getaway. These are just a few ideas of how you could improve your space. There are endless possibilities, so feel free to think big and come up with something that you would enjoy for years to come.
Plan For Next Season
Take some time to reflect on last year’s gardening experience and think about how you can improve and expand your efforts. Make some notes and lists of plants that need to be moved, divided, or replaced. Decide what changes you would like to make, how you would like to go about improving your soil, and note what issues arose last year so that you can plan how to avoid them this year. Make a list of new plants that you would like to try out in upcoming growing seasons. Sketch a layout plan that you can use as a reference when deciding what to plant where come springtime.
Hopefully, you now have plenty of ideas to work with and are ready to get started with your winter gardening fun. Winter will be over before you know it, so dive in head first. Keep an eye out for the second part of this series, in which we will answer commonly asked questions about winter gardening tasks. We will cover when you should cut back plants for winter, whether you should cover your garden, the best materials to cover your garden with, how you can improve the soil during the wintertime, how to winterize garden beds, and more.
Want to learn about winter gardening tasks?
Gardening Know How covers Early Winter Garden Chores
Mother Earth News covers 10 Tasks for Your Winter Garden
Proven Winners covers 10 Winter Gardening Tasks
The Backyard Gardener covers Winter Gardening Tasks