Winter garden work, by Jeff Rugg

It may seem like there isn’t much to do in the garden during the winter, but here are a few ideas that might keep you occupied.

For Northerners, is your snowblower ready? Do you have the gas and oil it needs, or electrical cords that aren’t frayed? Make sure you have sand or salt and snow shovels in the garage and car. Use sand on the boardwalks to reduce slipping. It works at any temperature (not salts) and will not damage plants, concrete or asphalt. Sand and salt can be premixed to facilitate spreading. If you get a sticky snow, you can spray the shovel or the inside of the snow thrower with non-stick cooking spray.

Calcium chloride salt is less harmful to plants than sodium chloride salt. Salt in granular form works better than flake or rock forms. It digs directly through the ice and ends up melting on the catwalk where it loosens the ice from the surface. The ice then melts or can then be shoveled.

Northerners who haven’t planted bulbs outdoors should do so as soon as possible, before the ground freezes. They won’t root out until spring, which will force early flowering bulbs to look later. For example, some tulips normally flower in April, some in May, and others in June, but if they all have to wait until spring to grow roots, they will all bloom together in June. Once the ground has frozen, cover the bulb planting area with a four to six inch layer of any organic mulch to reduce damage from freeze and thaw cycles.

Prevent winter damage to young trees, newly planted trees, fruit trees and maple trees by wrapping the trunk with burlap or tree wrapping paper. If you are using the paper, start at the bottom and overlap it so that it loses water. Then tape at both ends. The best protection against damage from rodents and deer is a mechanical barrier. Wrap the trunk or entire plant in chicken wire or hardware cloth. The fence may need to be raised if the snow “raises” the ground level.

Check multi-stemmed plants and evergreens to see if they need support to prevent damage from ice and snow. Gently brush off heavy, wet snow as soon as possible to prevent breakage. Be careful if there is an ice buildup on the plants, as the ice can break the branches if you try to remove the ice.

Spray a desiccant on newly planted trees and shrubs, evergreens in windswept areas like roadsides and Christmas trees that are going to be replanted. CloudCover and Wilt-Pruf are two brands. Check the tag to see if it can be used on cut Christmas trees. These sprays coat the leaves and stems of the plant and slow water loss.

Dig up and turn over the soil in the vegetable garden to expose overwintering insects to the cold. It also gives you a head start on the garden in the spring, as you won’t have to dig in wet soil.

Protect hybrid roses by putting a foot of soil on the grafting point. The above ground graft is a large, knot-shaped growth from which the stems originate. Once the ground has frozen, add a foot of mulch over the graft to isolate it from freeze-thaw cycles. Staying frozen is much better than repeatedly warming up and cooling down.

Clean, sharpen and oil any tool before storing it for the winter. Use linseed oil on all wooden handles. Add a fuel stabilizer to all gasoline powered power tools. Bring power tools into the shop for a tune-up while you don’t need them so they’re ready when you need them. Be sure to drain hoses and sprinklers and protect outdoor water faucets. Clean the gutters so that water does not pool, freeze or break the joints. Store garden chemicals in a locked box where they will not freeze.

If you are planning to do some landscaping work next year, winter is a good time to get professional help. Doing the design work now will give you a leg up on those who wait for the first hot spring days to remind them of their landscaping needs.

Email your questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To learn more about Jeff Rugg and read articles from other Creators Syndicate authors and designers, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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