The Garden in Winter

Just when you thought you could relax and pore through all those garden catalogs that have arrived, you realize that your yard and garden still need your attention. We’ll look at those catalogs later.

The winter months—January, February, and March—offer many opportunities to get outside. So dress warmly, put on your boots, and tackle these winter gardening tasks.

Care for garden beds, trees, and shrubs to protect them against the cold and wet weather still ahead in King County. Add compost and mulch around perennials if they need it. Prune out dead or broken branches from trees and shrubs and compost them or use pruned evergreen branches to provide additional protection from snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Roses can be pruned in late February or early March. Deadhead perennials and herbs and cut back ornamental grasses, composting the cuttings. Keep after weeds and hunt down slugs throughout the winter; they never give up.

Apply dormant sprays on calm days in January to evergreens and fruit trees to control insect pests and mites. (Carefully read and follow label directions.) Late January and early February are also good times to fertilize trees, shrubs, and evergreens. They will appreciate the nutrients when they start to emerge from dormancy.

Lawn care isn’t confined to summer mowing. Avoid walking on soggy patches and dig out those perennial weeds before they get started in spring. Renovate existing lawns or install a new lawn in late March to give it a head start as the weather warms.

Tool care is an important part of winter gardening. Get the lawn mower tuned up and the blades sharpened in January. Hardware stores and tool shops will appreciate the work and you’ll beat the spring rush. Get saw and trimmer blades sharpened as well. Clean up hand tools, hosing off dirt and sharpening the edges. Tool handles will benefit from an oil treatment to keep them from splitting and breaking.

Planning the garden is half the fun, whether it be in the ground or in containers. Vegetable gardeners, take into account crop rotation as part of the plan. Rotating plants in the same family to different parts of the garden over two- or three-year period will reduce the chance that diseases remaining in the soil will continue to infect those plants. Also, soil fertility improves from rotating nitrogen-fixing vegetables, like legumes, through the garden.

Planting the garden is the other half of the fun. Start broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage indoors in February for transplanting outdoors or to containers later. Other vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers can be started indoors in March. Plant fruit trees and flowering trees in February, along with bare-root roses and berries. February is also a good time to transplant fruit and flowering trees. In March, divide perennials that bloom later than mid-June.

In the midst of all this activity, take the time to appreciate the dormant winter garden. Enjoy the quiet that prevails before the burst of growth in spring.

– Marty Byrne

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