Outdoors

Everything you need to know about taking care of plants in the winter

Icicles cover plants during the early morning at Dewars Nurseries in Apopka, Fla., Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010. The plants are sprayed with water to help protect them from below freezing temperatures.
Icicles cover plants during the early morning at Dewars Nurseries in Apopka, Fla., Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010. The plants are sprayed with water to help protect them from below freezing temperatures. AP

I know you’re enjoying this three-day winter Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend.

Nevertheless, I’m going to encourage you to get up, go outside and do some gardening. Gardening, this time of year? As counterintuitive as it may seem, cold weather gardening is not an oxymoron. I’m not talking about growing winter greens. I’m really talking about preparing your garden for next season.

I know. You spent this spring digging and planting and the long, hot summer pulling weeds and sweating and you really don’t want to do much now. But there are a lot of useful things you can do in the fall and winter. If your annuals have browned down in their pots, you can recycle the potting soil. As long as the original plants were free from disease, the soil can be added to your compost pile.

Break up the root balls and mix it in. After you’ve removed the old soil, clean up the pots and put them away for the winter; especially the clay pots which can freeze and crack if the weather gets cold enough.

Clean up your flower and vegetable beds. This is a critical part of winter gardening. Too much debris will attract pests and diseases. If it’s “clean,” compost it. If not, bag it up and get rid of it.

Mulch any exposed soil. Spreading out a layer of mulch over your soil will protect it from the elements and will help any plants growing in your garden. A good layer of mulch (7 - 10 cm) helps to insulate roots and will keep most winter weeds from taking hold.

Winter time exposes the basic structure of your garden. By trimming your deciduous trees and shrubs, you’ll see the benefit all winter and early spring. Conifers are the exception here. If you trim them up in the winter, they may develop brown spots. Wait until summer. Spray your fruit trees with a dormant oil to kill any overwintering pests.

Clean up your tools. Tool maintenance is just as important as any other garden chore. Clean tools, properly stored, will give you years of good use. Before you store your tools, give them a good cleaning. Wash off any dirt. If it won’t wash off, scrub it off with a stiff brush. Let them dry before you put them away. After you’ve cleaned them up, you should oil any moving parts on tools like pruners.

Because wooden handles are constantly exposed to hard use and the elements, they should be cleaned with water then lubricated with a coating of linseed oil. Let the oil thoroughly soak in before you use them again. Take the time to sharpen any bladed tools as well. Not just shears, pruners and lawn mower blades. Sharpen the edges of your hoes, spades and trowels as well.

Finally, there’s one more important winter task you need to do. Empty any excess water from your hoses and disconnect them. If you experience a hard freeze this winter and you haven’t stored your hoses properly, ice can expand and split not only your hose but possibly your pipes as well.

After you’ve accomplished all of these tasks, go back inside. Sit down in your chair. Check out the seed catalogs, place your order and dream of gardens to come.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.

  Comments