Winter gardening tips from a horticultural meteorologist...
It has been a long time since we have talked about gardening; over a month. Certainly the last month has been a kind one to the late season garden with plenty of rain and relatively mild temperatures. Pansies are looking pretty good out there along with the cabbages and kales.
Update: we’ve gotten reports of azaleas blooming in Shaw, irises in Chevy Chase, and cherry blossoms on 34th St. in NW DC. Do you have unusual flowers blooming for the time of year? Send us pics at firstname.lastname@example.org, @capitalweather on Twitter or post to our Facebook page.
It doesn’t look like any real cold blasts are coming any time soon either so more time to enjoy the hardy garden denizens.
Now don’t get me wrong I enjoy some time off from the garden. But inevitably I find myself drawn to it. So what is a gardener to do this time of year? Here are a few things on my list to keep me busy.
Keep reading for my idea on winter activities...
This is actually a great time of year for bird watching since several species overwinter here. Putting out birdseed is a great idea. Cardinals are one of my favorites and well-placed black sunflower seeds are usually a magnet.
I am also lucky enough to catch glimpses of indigo buntings and blue jays when I go to the Delaware beaches. Why even the sparrows are entertaining this time of year. I was shocked to see a very large hawk on the back fence in downtown D.C. the other day. I never would have guessed they would be here and boy did the squirrels not like that!
This is also a great time to survey the garden and start planning for the year ahead. With some of the more vigorous summer growth out of the way, it is easier to see the “backbone” of the garden and get ideas on what might be missing and where to fit in possible new additions.
One thing that makes me a little crazy is some of my neighbors who have already trimmed back all their ornamental grasses and those big flower heads on the hydrangeas. I love to leave them in place during the winter. With a coating of frost or snow or even just wafting in the wind, they are a nice sight. I do admit to pruning the holly this time of year to add some decoration to the indoors.
Speaking of indoors, I have no green thumb with houseplants but with bulbs I can get by. This is a great time of year for amaryllis and paperwhites. They are pretty much foolproof. Amaryllis have a good range of colors and sizes these days. They often will bloom in no more than 8 weeks. Paperwhites are in the daffodil family and look great set in a clear pot of nothing but decorative gravel. They have a nice fragrance as well, in case you burn the Christmas goose!
This is also a favorite time of mine as the seed catalogs start rolling in. My favorites are Burpee and Park Seed. They come with multitudes of pictures and how-to information. I used to start seedlings indoors by the score, but have gotten lazy and mainly plant seeds that can go right into the garden like nasturtiums and sunflowers. I find the catalogs are great for getting an idea on what plants will work best in my garden and to remind myself what I want to be looking for at the nurseries come spring.
One last thing, if winter ever does arrive, I have promised to spray my newly planted magnolia tree with an anti-transpirant like “Wilt Pruf” to protect it from the drying winter winds. Humidity levels can get desert-like in the winter. For plants with limited root development like my newly transplanted magnolia and rhododendrons, an anti-transpirant can cut back on loss of water through the leaves and help the plants get through the first year or two. This is mainly a concern for broad leaf evergreens and not pines and cedars.
And while I am fantasizing about some winter weather coming, if there is snow or ice, try using kitty litter rather than salt on sidewalks to cut back on the damage to nearby plants.
Please share your winter time diversions with us as we bide our time until spring returns!
Capital Weather Gang meteorologist David Streit is also an active gardener. He earned a certificate in landscape design from the USDA Graduate School and volunteered many years at the National Arboretum.
Related post: Celebrating the winter solstice for gardeners