Dogwood bud in ice ©Jeffrey D. Nichols M-223

Dogwood bud in ice ©Jeffrey D. Nichols M-223

Gardening is truly a four-season activity here in the beautiful Piedmont of North Carolina (zone 7). After the holiday hubbub settles and the chilly days of January take the stage we may be tempted to hibernate till the first crocus appears. And we will miss valuable time for important activates. In no particular order here are a few of my favorite garden task for the winter months.

Do some tool maintenance.

Inspect your garden tools. Winter is a great time to clean and sharpen hand pruners, shovels, and hoes. Dirt, sap, and rust on these tools should be removed. I use a combination of steel wool, WD-40 and elbow grease. Maintain power equipment such as lawnmowers by changing the oil and air filter and sharpening the blade. Be ready when spring arrives.

Winter Gardening 2018 (1)

Keep on composting.

The leaf harvest is ongoing as the winds blow in stragglers. Gather these late-comers and add them to the compost pile. On a warm day I turn the leaf pile to add water and a sprinkling of garden soil. I also add nitrogen in the form of 10-10-10 fertilizer or some type of herbicide-free high nitrogen fertilizer. My space is small so leaving leaves to percolate for the three years it takes them to break down on their own is not an option. Accelerate their metamorphosis into compost by turning the leaves two or three times during the winter. Does the process work? I just mulched the roses with the last of the compost from the 2016-2017 leaf harvest.

Winter Gardening 2018 (3)

Spread some mulch.

Mulch the roses and other perennial plants to keep roots toasty through the winter. Winter is a great time to top dress garden beds with organic material. I covered my roses before the winter storm hit us. Whew!

Browse garden catalogs.

Once I ordered from a mail order or online garden company. The others found out and now I receive a yearly crop of catalogs. I enjoy turning the pages, making notes, and planning the new plants I can add to the garden. If the stuff does not grow in my garden it won’t be because I did not order the seeds and try it for myself.

Trim and clean up.

Winter is a great time to clean up the landscape. Pruning of larger trees is easier without the leaves. Removing stumps is great exercise. Be careful pruning bushes as some species such as azaleas and rhododendrons have formed spring buds and should be pruned after the bloom. In my garden I allow the stalks of some perennials such as salvia and cone flowers to winter in place. Only today I saw birds hopping from plant to plant to nibble seeds.

Winter Gardening 2018 (4)

Survey the beds.

Check the garden beds regularly in case something is happening.  Next spring’s daffodils are already poking up through the frozen tundra a full 4”. Amazing progress considering we’re iced in a record breaking cold spell. As you browse the beds, take time to pull up any weeds which have germinated.

Winter Gardening 2018 (2)

Start seeds.

As the date for the last frost approaches the garden pace quickens. Seeds that are to be started indoors need to be sown and tended in the hotbed or window sill or some other venue. I took advantage of a living room table to sow left over carrot and lettuce seeds. I’m not sure about the harvest but the tiny plants pushing heaven-ward chase away the chills and speak to me of potential.

Remember the potted plants.

Don’t forget that the potted plants on the porch or deck awning still need watering. Pick a day when temperatures are above freezing and water early in the morning so the pots can drain before nightfall and dropping temperatures.

Give thanks.

Give thanks for those 60 to 70 degree days that sometimes pop up in January and February and get outside. Sit by the pond and enjoy the sounds of trickling water. Soak up the warm sun and marvel at the blue sky.

Next spring’s bountiful display is built on this year’s planning, preparation, and hard work. Don’t waste the winter opportunities like this man who earned mention in the book of Proverbs.

The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.  Proverbs 20:4 ESV