Winter Garden To-Do List

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Winter gardening

Brrrrr! It may be getting cold outside, but there are still plenty of things to do to keep your hands dirty. In November there is tree, shrub and bulb planting and clean up; December is all about gardening indoors; and in January it’s time to start preparing for spring. Here’s a month-by-month list of garden-related activities you can do this winter.


Procrastination pays off when it comes to winterizing the garden. It’s actually best to wait until after a few killing frosts to clean up and mulch. Cut back dead perennials, and pull out summer annuals. Apply a 3-inch layer of mulch after the ground freezes, keeping the mulch away from tree trunks and plant-crowns to prevent rodent damage.

In the garden, cut back asparagus fronds after they turn brown, cover strawberries with wheat straw, and remove any remaining summer veggies such as tomatoes. Extend the growing season for cool-weather crops by using frost blankets or cold frames.

As long as the ground has not frozen, you can plant daffodil bulbs.

SEE ALSO: Brighten Your Garden with Winter-Flowering Shrubs

Fall is a great time for planting trees, but some varieties prefer a spring planting. Conifers, Japanese maples, dogwoods, sweet gums, oaks, crabapples and birches should be planted or transplanted in the spring.

Plant Oriental and Asiatic lily bulbs in late fall for showy blooms next spring. If the ground is already frozen in your area, re-pot the bulbs in containers; store them in locations where they will stay cool, dry and won’t freeze; and then plant the bulbs next spring. Lily bulbs never really go dormant, so be gentle in handling them.

Paper Whites


Be sure the trees you planted this year are staked and supported with guy wire. The weight of ice combined with the force of strong winds can literally uproot newly planted trees.

Cut back on watering and fertilizing your houseplants. Plants aren’t in an active growth stage during winter and don’t need as much moisture or nutrients. Water when the soil is dry to the touch, and hold off on fertilizing the plants until March.

Few indoor plants offer more color and drama than the amaryllis. To prolong the bloom of this magnificent flower, try this method: Once the flower bud opens, remove the yellow anthers inside the flower with tweezers before they shed pollen. The flowers will also last longer if the plant is moved to a cooler room at night (55-65 degrees) and out of direct sunlight during the day.

SEE ALSO: Tennessee Is a Haven for Holly Plants

If you are going green this holiday season and plan to use a live Christmas tree that can be planted outdoors, do not keep it inside for more than six days. The warmth indoors can cause the tree to break dormancy, and the shock of moving it back outside might prove to be too much for it to survive. Dig the hole before the ground freezes. Keep the garden soil you removed from the hole in an area where it won’t freeze or wash away.

Re-pot paperwhites every week for continuous blooms well into the New Year.

Celebrate the winter solstice on Dec. 21. Now the days will be gradually getting longer, which means spring is on its way!


Get out your catalogs, and visit your favorite online garden stores because it’s time to start placing plant and seed orders for spring.

Don’t fret over emerging spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. The foliage contains an “antifreeze” that will protect the plants from cold. Likewise, pansies and violas can take temperatures down to 30 degrees. If you are expecting 10 or more nights of temperatures below 30 degrees, cover your plants with newspaper, buckets or an old sheet until morning.

SEE ALSO: Add Color to Your Evergreen Landscaping

As weather permits, cut back liriope ground cover and ornamental grasses before new growth begins. Liriope can be cut back with a line trimmer. Use sharp shears for ornamental grasses.

Toward the last day of the month, start seeds for cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, onions and leeks.

Brush snow off of shrubs, but let ice melt naturally to avoid damaging limbs and foliage.
Schedule a tree service to prune large trees. Do this while the tree is still dormant, because it has energy stockpiled in its tissues, which means it can endure the shock of pruning best during the winter.

Winter Bird Feeding

Winter Bird Feeding

During winter, birds are in need of both food and water. The tradeoff for your efforts will be a host of feathered friends bringing color and life to your garden.

Set up feeders in areas where the birds will feel safe, such as near the branches of a tree or a large shrub.

Keep your feeders filled, especially in late winter and early spring when natural food sources are low.

Black oiled sunflower seeds are an all-around favorite that appeal to a wide variety of seed-eating birds. If shells and hulls under the feeder is a problem, try some of the “waste free” seed blends.

Fruit slices, raisins and breadcrumbs are tasty additions to a bird’s diet, but the pieces need to be small for easy digestion.

Birds need water to drink and to keep their feathers clean. Bird baths should be shallow with a rough surface for the birds to stand on. Place the bath at least 4 to 5 feet away from feeders to prevent droppings and seed debris from contaminating the water. It is also a good idea to put the bath near a low hanging branch so birds can easily escape predators.


Poinsettia Power

To prolong poinsettia color, keep the plants in rooms where the temperature is around 60 degrees at night and 72 degrees during the daytime and out of direct sunlight. The flowers will also last longer if the plants are moved to a cooler room at night.

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