Winter is the perfect time to stock up on the things you will need once the frost subsides and the northerly winds taper. Spring will be here before you know it, so don’t be caught off guard without these important garden tools:
Having these tools on hand along with a garden action plan will have you organized and ready to go once spring arrives!
The term ‘Heather’ is most often used interchangeably for both the Heather and Heath species of plants. Their similar qualities of wooly evergreen foliage and small, yet profuse pendulous flowers make them desirable species for gardeners who live all across the world. Native varieties of Heathers and Heaths can be found growing wild from Europe to Africa.
A popular variety is the Erica genus of which there are about 700 species! These tend to adapt to a wider variety of soil conditions. However they are mostly wanted for their rare blooming season which happens during the otherwise dreary winter and early spring. Flower colors vary from white to lilac to deep reds and burgundy!
Heathers rarely need fertilizing but do need well drained soil. A continual wet root system will likely cause fungal root rot and the plant to fade.
There are many forms, colors and varieties to choose from. Your needs will determine what will work best for you. Lower spreading forms of Heather are best used for retaining walls, rock gardens, and ground covers. Their upright growing brethren are brilliant in mass plantings, borders and containers.
Various species can be grown in zones 5 through 9 in part to fully sunny conditions. Usually the biggest maintenance issue will be pruning or shearing of the plant every year or two. Make cuttings just below the spent flowers to keep plants bushy, floriferous and healthy.
Whether planted in mass on sunny hillside or tucked away in a rock garden, Heathers without a doubt, provide a burst of spectacular color after a lone winter. Few plants can ignite the excitement of all the beauty that is yet to arrive during the coming growing season.
When it comes to landscape design, some people prefer manicured perfection with a formal flare. Others tend to go for a more rustic look that mimics the natural world around them. Of course, using a mix of both styles could be in order too! It’s all up to you. However, there are some general landscape design rules that will keep whatever style you choose looking like a master gardener is in charge.
Winter is a perfect time to prepare for spring. Whether you are a beginner or a gardening aficionado, there are some basic guidelines to get you off to a great start and to keep you from getting overwhelmed.
First, take inventory of your tools and keep a list of garden supplies you may need. The good news is many of these things may be on sale during the ‘off season.’
Next, make diagrams of your yard. They don’t have to be drawn to scale, just get the lay-of-the-land and list the main plants in each garden bed or area. Is there anything you’ve wanted to add? Is there an area that underperformed last season? Which areas get sun and which are in the shade?
Then do some research and make a ‘wish list’ of plants you would like to add and divide your list into sun, part sun or shade plants. From there, divide them into blooming times or foliage color. Then ‘plug’ these into the appropriate areas on your diagram. Make sure each bed or area has sufficient beauty and interest. Remember, this is a ‘wish list’ and is meant to inspire and keep you organized. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t have everything you want all at once.
Finally, make a general “To Do List.” An easy to follow list that could be used in most climates is as follows…
Late Winter/Early Spring: If needed, prune back deciduous shrubs (not spring blooming ones!), broadleaved evergreens and cut back ornamental grasses. Clean out pots and containers for decks and patios.
Early Spring: Mulch bed areas with an organic material. If frost is gone, plant your new plants and summer or fall blooming bulbs.
Summer: Keep up with watering, deadheading, mulching, disease control, and prune needle-leaved evergreens if needed.
Early to mid-Fall: Divide overgrown perennials and plant spring bulbs if desired. There are many perennial and shrub species that do well with fall plantings. Get ready for winter preparation!
We love ‘em and then sometimes… we don’t. Deer can bring wonderment and beauty to our yards, but they also bring something else – their appetites. When these four legged friends start to eat everything but the concrete, it’s probably time to take some action.
Just about everyone has got their ideas on what works and what doesn’t. It seems that it has a lot to do with how used to human interaction the deer are. If you have a neighbor that feeds them, it’s going to be very tough to shew them off. On the other hand, if you live near an area where there are regular hunting seasons, then the deer are much more likely to be scared of you and your tactics!
Store bought sprays can be very effective. There are many on the market from rotten egg smells to coyote and other predator urine. The downside is, they do smell terrible and they can be quite expensive.
Many people swear by motion detected water sprayers that blast a shot of water in the deer’s direction. As one manufacturer puts it... “Harsh but Harmless.”
The following are all homemade deer prevention strategies. Special note* try rotating these tactics for best effect.
Perhaps the best thing you can do other than having a guard dog or a 10’ fence around the perimeter is using plants that are labeled deer resistant. In addition, observe what is being eaten and what isn’t and keep a running list. Things may change from year to year depending on how desperate or ‘adventurous’ they are feeling, but it should still give you a good idea of what is safest to plant in the future.
While always a bit of a gamble, there are those who love to live on the garden edge and test the boundaries of what they can plant in their landscapes. For instance if you live in a zone 5, but just have to have that plant that is labeled hardy to a zone 6 and above (the higher the zone the warmer the climate), you might have some luck with strategic placement.
Generally speaking, sunnier places that are protected from wind can be as much as one zone warmer than the rest of your yard. The same is true in the opposite direction… a cold northerly facing spot that gets shade may be a zone cooler than the average zone of your regional climate.
These spots in the landscape are called ‘microclimates’ and typically differ distinctly from the norm, although they often go undetected unless you are consciously looking for them.
Usual places where microclimates might be found are near fences, heat vents, sheds, retaining walls and courtyards. It is not unlikely that an enthusiastic gardener will build a microclimate if one doesn’t already exist. For example, using some decorative fencing perhaps covered with a woody vine can create a warmer microclimate if facing in a southerly direction.
There are no guarantees this will always work and this practice is definitely for the experimental at heart. But there are those that find great excitement in it and enjoy the shear satisfaction out of beating the odds!
Becoming familiar with some basic landscaping jargon can help take some of the confusion out of the process. It may also have you looking and sounding like an expert – even if you’re not!
Here are some common garden terms you may not know:
Annuals: are plants that live for only one growing season. They generally need to be replaced with new plants each year.
Deciduous: trees and shrubs are those that lose their leaves and go dormant during the cold season.
Double Flower: is a bloom that was bred to have more petals than the average flower. It sometimes looks like a flower within a flower.
Cultivar: are plant selections that have been created by breeding specific plants with desirable qualities and/or are maintained by selective breeding.
Habit: is the basic shape or form that a tree or shrub takes on. Example, conical, mounded, spreading, etc.
Hardscape: are the static, inanimate objects in landscapes most commonly referred to when speaking of patios, walkways and sheds.
Hardiness Zone: is the temperature zone in which your plant is likely to survive. You can find out what temperature zone you live in here.
Perennials: are plants that come back year after year. Although depending upon the species, might need to be replanted or divided every few years.
Xeriscape: is a landscape that is designed to conserve water. Generally plants are very drought tolerant in xeriscapes.
Variegated: are the striations and color patterns in plant foliage. Ex... a leaf that is plain green is not variegated. One that has green and white stripes… is!
Hopefully these terms have cleared up some confusion. Or perhaps just reassured what you already knew as you head out into the wonderful world of gardening.
A “hardscape” in the landscaping world is considered a paved walkway, street, building, fence or objects such as garden sheds, air conditioning units, etc. Basically, it is any inanimate and generally permanent structure. When plants are in full glory, these structures appear less stark by contrasting lush foliage surrounding them. However, when leaves fall, winter landscapes can appear bare, making walkways and curb appeal less inviting.
Luckily there are some easy rules to soften the look of concrete, brick and other static materials.
If you haven’t already built your hardscapes, using curved rather than straight lines and corners on the hardscapes themselves will soften the appearance of a patio or walkway. If that is not possible, using gentle arcs when carving out borders and beds that go along the straight lines of a hardscape creates a naturalistic feel that generally flows better and looks great even when plants aren’t leafed out.
Example of what to do using a border with curved edges.* If you have a straight walkway you would like to soften, try planting small or medium sized evergreens, like Boxwood in clusters of 3’s or 5’s, leaving space in between groupings. Planting them in a long linear row only mimics the lines of the walkway. The groupings will pull the eye away from the hard-lines and will afford you space to plant some beautiful contrasting plants during the growing season!
What about softening hardscapes with hardscapes? Why not!
It’s all about thinking outside the box – literally. Grouped together, decorative round pots of different sizes and rounded trellises are an easy way to add winter interest and whimsy. Decorate with evergreen boughs and lights during the holidays and plant them with beautiful blooming selections during the growing season.
Leaving ornamental grasses stand through winter also covers unsightly structures and gives snow a beautiful perch in which to glisten in the sun!
Creativity is the name of the game when it comes to landscaping and discovering what works for you. Explore all your options, like using alternative plants to evergreens, and have fun!
It might be true that there is little better than Arborvitae, Junipers and Yews for providing a natural privacy screen, that is unless you are tired of evergreens. In that case… there are creative alternatives! In fact, many of these selections, although deciduous have dense enough branching to constitute sufficient screening even through winter!
Here are some examples of plants that give evergreens a run for their money when it comes to beauty and privacy needs…
Northern Privet is a deciduous, fast growing shrub with dark green foliage spring through fall. Although leaves fall off before winter, the dense branching pattern is thick enough to provide more than adequate privacy hedges for most needs as well as a wonderful wind break.
Psst.. for zones 7 and above there is Waxleaf Privet!
Burning Bush is best known for its intense scarlet autumn color. These shrubs supply dense foliage and branch structure that can make a beautiful privacy hedge. Burning Bush also comes in a dwarf size that can still grow up to 8’!
Rose of Sharoncomes in a variety of colors. Blooms can persist from spring through fall, making this selection one of the most beautiful ‘living walls’ when used as a hedge or border.
Magnolia Trees are wonderful for standalone privacy needs. Try planting one of these medium sized trees at the corner of a patio or deck to accomplish summer privacy needs and gorgeous spring color.
Flowering Dogwood Trees are native to the Eastern United States and are considered an understory tree. Planted in groups they provide a lovely privacy backdrop in partly sunny conditions behind smaller shrubs like rhododendrons or azaleas.
For a smaller hedge or backdrop consider Red Osier Dogwood shrubs. These provide brilliant winter color with crimson branches that stand out brilliantly in an otherwise bleak winter landscape.
These are but a few of the many options readily available if you are looking for something other than evergreens. Just remember to consider the time of year you need the privacy, the size you will need, your planting conditions and plant color to get the most out of your creative aspirations!
Some of the benefits of making your own potpourri…
Basically, just about anything in your garden that is fragrant can work for making potpourri including, seeds, petals, leaves and bark. Here are a few examples:
You will need a fixative for lasting scent. Orris Root Powder or Oak Moss will work and can be found at most craft stores. You will also need Essential Oils of rose, lavender, lemon or another preferred fragrance.
Finally, things around the kitchen you may have such as, citrus peels (after drying), cinnamon bark and spices can also be added to further customize and create a bountiful aroma!
Making Your Potpourri:
Dry your material: Cut what you will need from your garden after dew has dried. One of the easiest and most efficient ways to dry flowers and leaves is to hang them. Bunch each scent separately and tie stems with a string or rubber band. Hang upside down in a dark, but well ventilated area. It will take anywhere from 4 days to 2 weeks to completely dry out.
Remember that your material will shrink considerably when drying. You will need to collect enough to make the desired amount. This may take several cuttings over a month or so to accumulate. Keep dried material in an air tight jar or container until you have enough to make your first batch.
After you have enough dried potpourri, add about 4 – 8 drops of your essential oil and 2 T of fixative to every cup of dried potpourri. Let the scents penetrate and keep in a brown paper bag or other container in a dark area for 3 - 6 weeks. Shake the material one or two times per week.
After several weeks, you can add a few more drops of oil if need be or any other ‘extras’ such as cinnamon bark or citrus peels if desired. Then…
Simply stir, divide and enjoy!
Basic Rules for Pruning Shrubs:
1. Maintain its natural shape. Pruning should be done primarily to remove dead and diseased branches. It is also done to maintain overall size. However, preserving its natural form also known as its ‘habit’ is ideal for most shrubs.
2. Let there be light! When branches grow close together and become too dense, light and air have a hard time penetrating the shrub. It is good to thin out shrubs where more light and air circulation would be beneficial. Generally, ‘thinning cuts’ require the removal of entire canes or branches near the base of the shrub to maintain the health of the plant.
3. Pruning shrubs is similar to pruning trees. Make the cuts just above the buds or where two branches intersect. ‘Heading cuts’ are used to control the growth and habit of the shrub. To do this, prune just above the buds that are pointing in the preferred direction for growth.
4. Shearing should only be applied when a formal hedge is desired on select plants that can handle the stress of this kind of aggressive pruning. Normally, shearing is done on small leaved evergreens and is best performed in summer. Make sure to leave the bottom of your hedges slightly wider than the top to facilitate the reach of sunlight.
5. Spring blooming shrubs that flower on last year’s growth should not be pruned in winter. It is best to wait until just after the shrub has flowered!
Finally, remember not to overdo it. If you have put off pruning that overgrown shrub for years, don’t go and hack away at abandon when you suddenly get motivated! Pruning only about 1/3 of the shrub per year is best for the overall health of your shrubs.
For cold climates that stay at or below freezing for most of the winter, watering during the heart of the season is not normally necessary. Most plants will go dormant and the freezing cold water hitting the root system can actually damage plants. A decent snow cover of a couple inches or more helps insulate roots from the cold. Mulching also provides sufficient root protection for most plants.
Watering is most important in late fall or in climates with mild winters that have occasional frosts. If possible, water the soil around your plant thoroughly a day or two before an expected frost. This will help strengthen and protect your plant from the cold. It is generally not recommended to water if there is snow on the ground or if the ground is frozen. Water early in the day before the temperature dips at night, to allow plants time to absorb the water. Be sure not to overwater during winter as too much can lead to root rot. Plants that are growing in winter are usually growing at a slower pace. At most, two to three waterings per month should be more than enough.
Root rot most commonly sets in during very late winter as snow melts and the frozen ground doesn’t allow for adequate drainage. A simple and effective method to help facilitate better drainage is to use a garden fork and poke holes in the ground around your plants. Make sure to make the holes far enough away from the base of your plants so as not to damage roots.
So the answer to “Should I be watering in winter?” all depends upon your climate and the type of plants you have! In addition, abiding by a basic winter checklist will help to keep you ahead of the game when it comes to winter preparation.