Winter Gardening 101
Your garden is your pride and joy during the Spring and Summer. You only wish you could make it last year round. Asking others for suggestions for a winter garden usually turns up a list of drab vegetables, snickers, or snide remarks.
The composition of that garden is dependent partly on your latitude and elevation, combined with the severity of your winter weather. A winter garden in Phoenix Arizona will have a greater variety of plants than in Juneau Alaska. The former is at the same latitude as the middle of the Sahara Desert, while the latter at the same as Stockholm Sweden. The same goes for contrasting winter gardens in San Francisco California and Denver Colorado. The former is at sea level, while the latter is a mile high in the Rocky Mountains, although they are nearly the same latitude.
A garden has a context and nothing reveals this context more than the nude garden of Winter. Your garden does not have to be so bare nor void of interest, as are most gardens in the coldest of months.
Winter gardening is not only about planting, growing, and beautifying with other structures, but it is about rejuvenating the soil. Turn over the soil, break it up, and add compost or manure. If you do this when the soil is neither frozen nor logged with water, you will improve the structure of your garden’s soil and enrich the nutrient and water reserve for all of your plants.
Protecting Potted Plants
Special consideration should be given to potted plants, since their root systems are more exposed to the elements. If you have space in a greenhouse or an enclosed porch, these are the best options for moving potted plants when the weather turns severe. Otherwise, you can huddle them together, a practice derived from a fact of Environmental Science – lone trees are more vulnerable to the elements than groups of trees that are close together. The wind and cold are dived among the group and more individual plants survive than if they were each alone and exposed. Even moving the plants closer to the house will help, since the house radiates some heat and blocks the wind and cold.
If you need to protect individual plants, wrap the pots in burlap. You could double the layer of burlap, but make sure you close the tops and bottoms tightly with string or wire. Horticulture fleece will also keep them warm, but nothing will save your plant if it is in the freezing winds of Winter. Just remember to take the fleece off as the temperatures rise again, to protect your plants from overheating. And do not forget to lay mulch on top of the soil.
A fine tool for Winter gardening is the cold frame. You can protect your plants by building a wooden structure around the bed and laying a plexiglass cover on top. This allows solar radiation to extend the warm period of growth. Be careful, though, if the temperature rises, to uncover your cold frame. Otherwise, the raised temperatures within the cold frame can damage your plants. Hang a thermometer inside the cold frame to help you quickly identify what to do.
The Focus of the Eye
Winter gardening is an interesting challenge even for the experienced gardener. Remember that as Winter sets in, your garden is stripped naked. So consider the focal points of your garden and plan appropriately. Nice boulders, a sculpture, hedges and large trees, decorative containers, ponds, gazebos, and arbors draw the attention and interest during Winter.
Colors and Fragrance
The four main colors of Winter are white, gray, brown, and dark green. Make the most of these colors in your garden and you will be welcoming Winter. If you have a bare deciduous tree, strikingly brown against an evergreen hedge, the image can evoke deep feelings.
As for fragrance, the cold Winter air carries the poignant smell of witch hazel and sweet box across your yard. Of course, any pine will likewise fill a void.
Think about the birds when you plan your Winter garden. Add a few trees and shrubs that will produce food in the middle of the Winter for the birds. Yew, hawthorn, holly, and blackthorn are fine examples. You can go a step further by creating a birdbath to give them a fresh water source. Add a ball and it will not freeze as easily. If it does freeze, remove the ball to give them a hole to access the water.
Take proper care of your plants that you will allow to lie dormant through Winter. Do not fertilize them or you may inadvertently force them into a new growth spurt. You will be depriving them of their much needed rest. In addition, the new growth will be killed by hard frosts and Winter winds. When the surface is neither frozen nor covered in snow, consider watering once a week to deep levels.