Bleak winter landscapes and cold, uninviting temperatures can try a gardener’s patience.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Think of this horticultural lull as an opportunity to plan and prepare your dream garden. Here are some gardening activities – mental and physical – to keep your green thumb thriving throughout the dormant season.
There’s a stack of gardening catalogs on my desk and in my email inbox. Each is filled with beautiful photographs, inspiring ideas and loads of knowledge just waiting to be plucked. One company specializes in gardening tools. Another showcases greenhouses in all shapes and sizes. There are also seed catalogs for herbs, flowers, vegetables and one that’s almost entirely tomatoes.
Gleaning through gardening catalogs or websites is an excellent and economical way to learn about growth habits and environmental needs of many different plants. Knowing how tall a plant grows and whether it needs full sun or partial shade can help you decide if that particular specimen is suitable for the bare spot in your yard or if something else would be a better, more successful choice.
This is also a good time to get reacquainted with the University of Georgia’s Extension publications website (extension.uga.edu/publications), where you can find Georgia-specific answers to almost all of your gardening questions.
Most woody plants need pruning at some point and, for many shrubs, that point is before they start to sprout their new, spring growth.
Pruning stimulates growth, flowering and fruit production; opens the plant to airflow and sunlight, inhibiting fungal diseases; and helps maintain the plant’s shape and size. Winter – while the leaves are on the ground and the branches are visible – is a great time to give your plants a good inspection and begin plotting your pruning strategy.
Take some plastic tape or ribbon with you so you can flag the limbs you plan to prune.
First, you’ll want to mark broken or damaged branches. Next, look for branches that grow inward toward the center of the plant and mark these for removal. Identify branches that cross other branches, especially if they are rubbing together. Select one to keep and mark the other for removal. Branches that cross and rub against each other damage protective bark, creating openings for diseases and insect pests to enter the plant.
Once you’ve flagged the branches, step back and assess the whole tree or shrub from all sides. Then walk away. It’s not time to prune, yet.
Over the next few weeks, return to the plant several times to reassess and firm up your plan of attack. By late February or early March, when it is time to prune many types of trees and shrubs, you should have a greater level of confidence as you approach your plant with pruning tools in hand.
Learn more about pruning tools, techniques and timing from the UGA publication, “Basic Principles of Pruning Woody Plants.”
Winter is a great season for building – raised beds, pergolas, retaining walls and even soil health. Why not get out and move some dirt to get excited about playing in the dirt later?
Raised beds: Raised beds can be constructed out of many materials, but there are some basic rules that can help make sure they’re successful. Planter height, materials and planter dimensions can make a difference in the success of your garden. Search for "raised beds" at extension.uga.edu/publications for guidelines and ideas.
Trellises and other garden structures: Maybe it’s time to add a little architectural interest to your garden. Whether built into a fence line or in the middle of your garden, trellises and arbors provide support for many flowering and edible vines. Many trellis and arbor plans are available for free online. Search for "native plants" at extension.uga.edu/publications for information on vines that grow well in Georgia.
Soil health: Now is the time to get your soil test done so that you can adjust factors like pH and nutrient levels before you plant. Find out more about soil testing by calling your local UGA Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1 or order a testing kit for $15 from the UGA’s Agricultural and Environmental Services Lab at aesl.ces.uga.edu/scripts/store.
Once you find out what your soil needs, you can enrich your soil with amendments of organic matter, such as compost.