By Sandra Nelson
To many in our part of the country, January and February (and sometimes March) are prime months for happily hibernating indoors. For those of us who are tried and true gardeners however, being out of the dirt and away from plants is akin to being held hostage by Mother Nature. In an effort to hold onto the belief that spring is right around the corner and I will soon be working in my yard again, I have gotten into the habit of writing out a list of what I want to accomplish before spring arrives. Having a set of realistic goals to complete not only lifts my spirits, it also keeps me moving during the long winter season. Here are my plans for the winter months ahead. I’m anxious to hear yours!
Do a Safety Check
- Check to make sure that walkways and patios are clear of tripping hazards. Is there settling anywhere? Do pavers need to be reset?
- Try shaking railings. Are they firmly anchored? Are steps level and clear?
- Examine retaining walls. Are they firmly in place ? Are any bowed or crumbling?
- Look for sight line problems. Do trees or shrubs obscure windows and doors? Do they create blind spots where someone could hide?
- Walk the property at night. Is the night lighting adequate? Does it throw unwanted shadows? Do bulbs need to be replaced?
- Consider the traffic flow in and out of your property. Are driveways or street corners blocked by overgrown or poorly placed plants?
Examine the Trees
- Look carefully for evidence of insect damage or diseases. Develop a treatment plan.
- Check for signs of animals nibbling the bark.
- Remulch as necessary, but make sure that mulch does not pile up against the trunk.
- Critically evaluate the shape of deciduous trees. Would careful pruning improve the overall appearance?
- Look up. Will the trees interfere with power lines as they grow?
- Step back and examine the house. Are any of the trees too close to the house or touching the roof?
Complete a Site Survey
Pick a balmy day to take a slow stroll through your property with your garden journal and your phone (or camera) in hand. Ask yourself the following questions, snap a few pictures and jot down your thoughts and ideas. They will be invaluable next spring!
- Do any shrubs need to be replaced? Are any overgrown or showing signs of decline?
- Which beds need to be redesigned? Where do beds needs to be added?
- Is the design attractive in the fall and winter months as well as in spring and summer? Where are there large blank spots that need a winter boost?
- Is there a view that needs to be enhanced?
- Is there a view that needs to be hidden?
Support Local Wildlife
- Fill bird feeders filled with nutritious seeds high in protein and fat. Be consistent because during the height of winter they will come to rely on your food for survival.
- Take down bird feeders and clean them at least two or three times throughout the winter. To prevent sickness or diseases in bird populations, throw away any crusted seed, then wash the feeder with a 10% bleach solution. Let it dry and refill with new, fresh seed.
- Place feeders close to evergreens so that birds can easily hide from predators like hawks or cats.
- Keep a fresh water source available during periods of freezing temperatures for birds and other types of wildlife.
- If a pond freezes over, gently break a hole in the ice so that hibernating fish and frogs aren’t killed by a build-up of toxic gases. Don’t use boiling water to break the ice as this can kill the wildlife.
- Allow some areas to remain completely natural (areas with leaf and limb debris) so that insects and ground animals can safely overwinter. Winter nesting spots are crucial for their survival.
Expand Your Knowledge
- Take a class, attend a lecture, read some books or even watch some videos online. Winter is a great time to learn a new technique or explore a new topic before the rush of spring chores begins.
- Visit nearby arboretums and botanical gardens to study plants in their natural environments.
- Order and read a variety of seed catalogs. Catalogs can provide a wealth of information about the characteristics and requirements of old favorites as well as new varieties.