It may seem too cold to think about gardening, but there are many things you can do in the garden this month.
Now that deciduous trees and shrubs are asleep for the winter, it is a good time to move them to a better location. Take a look at your landscape and see if it is working for you. Are there areas where family and friends have worn a path across the grass? This is a good time to redirect the traffic flow by moving a tree or shrub into the pathway to funnel traffic in the direction you wish it to go.
You can also move trees and shrubs to a better location if they are getting too large for the area in which you first placed them. You can also make a trip to the nursery to buy deciduous plants to add to the landscape now.
When you dig the new hole for these plants, backfill the hole with the same soil that is in the area — don’t add different soil, or amend with compost. Even though this might seem like a good idea, studies have shown that adding softer, richer soil to an area where a shrub or tree is to be planted can cause the roots to grow thickly in just the amended area instead of reaching out into neighboring soil. The roots should spread out and cover as large an area as possible. Healthy plants must have adequate roots to support the top of the plant.
Making a Bed
This is a good time of the year to add a vegetable or flower bed. Choose a cool but pleasant dry day to dig up a new bed and amend with compost. If you get the bed ready now, when spring rains come, you can plant seeds or young transplants into your already prepared soil.
You will be way ahead of your neighbor who may be caught waiting for a dry spell to plant his vegetable or flower garden. Prepare the bed well and then cover the area with mulch to keep erosion at bay. To plant seeds the next season, just move the mulch a little to the side and gently place the seeds in the ground. Wait to replace the mulch until the new plants are several inches tall.
If you were wise, you planted a fall garden and can now harvest some of the vegetables. Plants will not grow quickly this time of the year, so be patient. If plants are still too small to harvest, just let them grow and when spring arrives, they will leap into action, growing much quicker and bigger than freshly planted vegetables or flowers.
Keep an eye out for insects or disease problems and treat immediately. For the most part, there will be few problems to contend with this time of the year. If you planted broccoli in the fall, you will need to cover it with floating row cover to keep out early season month larvae, who absolutely love these vegetables. Keep them covered right into spring and remove the cover only to harvest broccoli heads before re-covering your plants.
Another good project for the winter garden is to add decorative and hardscape items, such as statues, benches, pathways or other people-friendly garden objects. Sometimes you can even find these items on sale this time of the year at a considerable discount.
If you are interested in crafts, why not try making a few markers for your vegetable or flower garden to identify your plants? Polymer clay is a great material from which to create markers that are long-lasting and nice to look at.
Just roll the clay out with a rolling pin (dedicated to just polymer clay) and imprint the name and variety of the plant with letter stamps. Letter stamps are available at all our craft stores. After imprinting the name into the clay, just use a cookie cutter in whatever shape you want to cut them out. I sometimes use cookie cutters shaped like the state of Texas, but many shapes are available.
Poke a hole in the top from which to hang them. You can use 10-inch lengths of copper wire to make little hooks from which to hang them. These are fun to use, look great, and help create a marker that will last forever. I have used these for years and they only fade a little bit after 10 years or so and are impervious to cold, hot, moisture and anything else nature can throw at them.
At the craft store where you found the letter stamps, you can almost always also find great garden accent pieces. Gazing balls look great in the middle of a vegetable or flower garden. You can also add a fountain or other source of water for the birds, but be careful. If you want butterflies in your garden, you may not want to invite the birds in to take a drink or a bath, as they will also stay to snack on butterfly larvae while they are there.
It is great to remember to think of people when designing your garden or landscape. Giving your family and friends a pleasant place to sit and contemplate while enjoying the garden is easy to do with a little planning.
Just add a bench or some chairs within view of your garden. Include a side table so your guests can sip a drink while sitting and enjoying your landscape on a lovely spring day. You can add a small decorative tree to the north side of a garden bed for shade that will not impact your garden sunshine. Try to include a pathway to this little retreat, so guests will be drawn in to sit and talk.
With a little thought, you can greatly enhance the usefulness and productivity of your garden landscape by working on improvements this time of the year. Take advantage of cool weather and sunny winter days to add some of these ideas to your garden this winter.