It may seem like there isn’t much to do in the garden over the winter, but here are some ideas that may keep you busy.
For northerners, is your snowblower ready? Do you have the gas and oil it needs, or electrical cords that aren’t frayed? Make sure you have sand or salt and snow shovels in the garage and car. Use sand on the walks to reduce slipping. It works at any temperature (salts don’t) and won’t harm plants, concrete, or asphalt. Sand and salt can be premixed together to make it easier to spread them. If you get a sticky snow, you can spray the shovel or the inside of the snowblower with a nonstick cooking spray.
Calcium chloride salt is less harmful to plants than sodium chloride salt. Salt in pellet form works better than flake or rock forms. It burrows directly through the ice and finishes melting on the walkway where it loosens the ice from the surface. The ice then melts or can then be shoveled off.
Northerners who haven’t planted outdoor bulbs should do so as soon as possible, before the ground freezes. They won’t grow any roots until spring, which will force early-blooming bulbs to a later schedule. For instance, some tulips normally bloom in April, some in May and some in June, but if they all have to wait until spring to grow roots, they will all bloom together in June. Once the ground does freeze, cover the bulb planting area with a four-to-six-inch layer of any organic mulch to reduce damage from freezing and thawing cycles.
Prevent winter damage to young trees, newly planted trees, fruit trees, and maples by wrapping the trunk with burlap or tree wrap paper. If you use the paper, start at the bottom and overlap it, so it sheds water. Then duct tape both ends. The best protection against rodent and deer damage is a mechanical barrier. Wrap the trunk or whole plant in chicken wire or hardware cloth. The fencing may need to be raised higher if snow “raises” the ground level.
Check multi-stemmed plants and evergreens to see if they need to be supported to prevent damage from ice and snow. Gently brush off heavy wet snows as soon as possible to prevent breakage. Be careful if there’s an ice buildup on the plants because ice can snap the branches off if you try to get the ice off.
Spray an anti-desiccant on newly planted trees and shrubs, evergreens in windswept areas like roadsides, and Christmas trees that are going to be replanted. CloudCover and Wilt-Pruf are two brand names. Check the label to see if it can be used on cut Christmas trees. These sprays coat the leaves and stems of the plant and slow water loss.
Dig up and turn over vegetable garden soil to expose overwintering insects to the cold. This also gives you a head start on the garden in the spring, as you won’t have to dig in the wet soil.
Protect hybrid roses by putting a foot of soil over the graft union. The above-ground graft is a large knot-like growth the stems come from. After the ground freezes, add a foot of mulch over the graft to insulate it from freeze-thaw cycles. Staying frozen is much better than warming up and cooling off repeatedly.
Clean, sharpen, and oil any tool before storing it for the winter. Use linseed oil on all wooden handles. Add fuel stabilizer to all gas power tools. Take power tools into the shop for a tuneup while you don’t need them so they will be ready when you do. Be sure to drain hoses and sprinklers and protect outside water faucets. Clean out gutters so water won’t build up, freeze, and break the joints. Store garden chemicals in a locked box where they won’t freeze.
If you’re planning to have any landscaping done next year, winter is a good time to get professional help. Getting the design work done now will put you way ahead of those who wait for the first warm days of spring to remind them of their landscaping needs.