Little winter gardening jobs at least scratch that itch

Erin Schanen

A couple weeks ago, a friend from Virginia shared her sense of accomplishment at edging her garden beds. I felt only one thing when I gazed upon a photo of her freshly edged  beds defining a dormant but now quite neat zone 7 garden — envy.

Don’t get me wrong, winter can be a great time for gardeners, mostly because we get a chance to miss gardening, but I would be quite happy to be able to check a few jobs off the list in winter, including edging beds.

That, of course, requires ground that is not frozen or sodden and temperatures that allow for working outside without risking frostbite, so it’s not something Ozaukee County gardeners will be able to do any time soon.

In fact, while gardeners in warmer areas may be able to do real garden work, we’re mostly left to dream and plan.

But there are a few gardening jobs to be done in winter, even here.

Any hardy plant in a container being stored for winter in a sheltered area needs to have some moisture, even when the soil is frozen. I gave all of the containerized shrubs I store in my unheated garage a small drink last weekend. They don’t need a lot of water, but a few cups will help keep some moisture in the soil. I usually water about once a month.

It’s also time to start checking on tender but dormant plants, tubers and corms. I store dahlias, Colocasia, the giant banana and two fig trees in containers and more in a cold corner of our basement, which usually hovers around 45 degrees. They’ve all been there since around the last frost, so it’s high time for a check. Some, like the figs, may need a bit of water, but just to keep the soil moist. The dahlias will get a thorough check for signs of rot, which requires their immediate removal lest it spread to other tubers, or shriveling, which is treated with a few spritzes of water on the shredded wood animal bedding I use as a storage material.

It’s far too early to start seeds indoors here, but a bit of organization before the first seed is sown goes a long way. I already ordered some seeds only to find when they arrived that they were duplicates of some I already had in my stash. It’s not the end of the world, since most seeds last many years, but more preparation on my part would have avoided the issue.

I’ll also take stock of my seed-starting supplies, particularly trays, which I’ve been slowly converting to high-quality recycled plastic because the flimsy cheap ones self destruct. My hope is that I’ll be able to use them longer, avoiding the guilt of having to toss non-recyclable plastic.

Perhaps the most important winter job is to keep up on the deer and rabbit protection in the yard. The damage those hungry scoundrels can do to a shrub or tree in winter can be disfiguring at best and lethal at worst, so I still trudge around with caging and repellent.

These little gardening jobs don’t add up to nearly the satisfaction of what gardeners in warmer climates can accomplish in winter, but it still scratches that gardening itch.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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