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6 Essential Tasks for the Winter Garden

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The winter garden is quiet and bare, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.  A little maintenance and planning now will ensure a beautiful and bountiful garden in just a few months.  Gardeners understand the importance of “slow and steady” and work through these chores without getting overwhelmed.  Our gardens always need a little attention, and these are the winter garden chores that will have the biggest impact during the summer months.  It’s nice to get a little fresh air and exercise anyway, right?

1.  Plant Bare Roots

This time of year nurseries are fully stocked with bare root fruit trees of all kinds, berry canes, roses, vines and perennials.  “Bare roots” are plants that are sold with their roots exposed  during the winter when they are dormant.  This is an ideal time to plant bare roots because they will quickly adapt to their new soil and begin to grow rigorously in early spring.  Bare roots are also the least expensive way to buy these plants because the nurseries haven’t spent the time and money to put them into pots.  Not only does the price go up when they get potted up, the new growth is stunted by the containers.  It’s certainly not the most glamorous time to buy these plants, when they look like a tangled mess of sticks, but you will be rewarded for your foresight!  Plant the bare roots carefully in a large hole, at least 2-3 times the size of the root ball, and amend with rich compost and “Sure Start”, a fertilizer that encourages new root growth.  Water well for the first week or two, and consider mulching to protect the roots from cold weather and dry spells.

2. Pruning

Winter pruning is essential for most fruit trees, roses, berries and vines.  It is important to cut away the dead and diseased branches, and to encourage new growth and flowering by snipping and shaping to increase airflow and stability.  The pruning times and techniques vary for different plants and trees, so keeping a pruning log in your garden journal is a invaluable.  Pruning is a skill perfected over time and making mistakes is all part of the learning curve.  Here is a great overview of all things pruning.

3.  Compost

Visit your compost bins and take stock of what is going on.  You will need plenty of rich compost for feeding your plants and trees now, and in the coming months. If you have a shortage, start shopping around for the good stuff.  Here is all my glorious information on composting!

4. Perennial Care

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to clean up your perennial beds.  Perennials are the flowers and shrubs that come back every year, sometimes they die down to the ground, but you can always count on them coming back bigger and better each summer.  Rake out all the leaves and debris, and cut the stems down to a few inched above the ground.  Many perennials, even if they haven’t died back, still benefit from a hard prune (some only bloom on old stems, so be sure you know before you cut).  Give the plants a nice big mound of rich compost and/or fertilizer, and mulch to help keep the soil moist and prevent weeds from invading.  This care will make your perennials very happy, and they will grow and flower like crazy!

5. Start Seeds

Growing your own summer annuals from seed is crazy cheap!  You can buy a package of organic, non-GMO seeds for about $3 a pack and start at least a dozen plants.  In May, when it’s time to plant, those same starts in 4 inch pots will cost about $5 each!  February is the perfect time to start tomatoes, basil, nasturtiums and zinnias, then start the faster growing plants, like cucumbers and squash, a few weeks later.  Of course, timing does depend on your usual last frost, mine could be as late as May 15th, so I have to be pretty conservative with my young starts.  Check the Farmer’s Almanac for your local area.  Here is another post I’ve written with lots of information on starting seedlings.

6.  Plant Cold Hardy Veggies

Depending on where you live, you may be able to grown your own dark leafy greens all winter.  The ideal time to plant kale, chard, broccoli, spinach and some lettuces, is in the fall, so they are growing rigorously before the cold sets in.  However, now is just as fine a time to pick up some starts from the nursery and enjoy snipping their leaves until the hot days come.  Depending on how chilly the days are, it may take a little while for the plants to get established, a cold frame could really help things along, or plant them in a container in a nice, sunny spot.  Even if your plants seem stagnant for a little while, they will take off like crazy when early spring arrives.

Spending a little time in the garden this time of year truly makes a difference!  As the winter days lengthen and warm up to spring, your plants will be ready to explode with new growth, rewarding you many times over.

Take a peek into my world of Eating, Gardening, Making and Mothering, authentically and with meaning. Thanks for visiting!
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