Winter Gardening

Ornamental grasses and evergreen shrubs make this garden look great all winter.[/caption]

When the holiday decorations come down and the temperatures drop, as they surely will in January and February, it'll look pretty gloomy out our windows - no doubt about it.  But it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom, with these tips.


  • Brings parts of your garden plants indoors.  Dozen of woody shrubs and trees add colorful stems, berries and/or bark.
  • Bring colorful pots close to the house where you can enjoy them - especially the ones planted with pansies or ornamental cabbage and kale.  Or try conifers, like the ones that grace the pots on my front porch all winter long, before being replaced by annuals in the spring.
  • Even some perennials look good in the winter and can be sited where you see them from the house - like ornamental grasses.  And I've been known to spray-paint the dried flowers of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' to keep them colorful all winter, even fooling the neighbors into thinking the colors were natural.
  • Chairs painted in spring or summertime colors can keep a winter patio looking lively.
  • It's always exciting to plan improvements to the garden and winter's a great time to do it - for real!  This time of year you're looking at JUST the bones of the garden - the woody plants and the hardscape elements, like paths and terraces - so you can really see what's needed.  Get out there and dream now before the flashy floral show of spring distracts you from the task at hand.

And for the kids, the American Nursery Association suggests these indoor winter gardening activities.  Great projects!

  • Windowsill gardens.  When snowdrifts keep your kids inside, try cultivating a windowsill garden.   All you need is a sunny spot and a few containers of soil.  Herbs are an excellent choice for windowsills.
  • Peculiar plants.  what kid wouldn't be fascinated by an insect-eating plant?  Bring a Venus flytrap home as a houseplant, then you can visit the library or search the Internet for more information about the natural habitat and growth habits of this unusual plant.
  • Watch seeds sprout.  Line a glass jar with a damp paper towel and insert several zucchini seeds between the glass and the towel.  Place a lid on the jar, leave it on the kitchen counter, and check the paper every day to make sure it's still moist.  Seeds should sprout in a few days.  Or try bush beans instead of zucchini.
  • Read a book.  Books like Peter Rabbit and The Secret Garden can spark your child's interest in gardening.
  • Decorate while you wait.  Let kids indulge their natural creativity by painting inexpensive terra cotta pots to use next spring, for repotting houseplants this winter, or for birthday and thank-you gifts.  Kid-safe, durable paints are available at craft stores.
  • Get a jump on spring. Buy some seeds, then start them indoors to plant outside after the last frost. Ask the experts at your garden center or check your favorite gardening book to determine when to start seeds.
  • Terrariums. Carefully place some soil and a few mosses and plants (with roots) inside a clean mayonnaise jar. Keep your indoor garden moist with a plant mister, and cover the opening with clear plastic wrap.

    Everyone loves terrariums, even dogs.
  • Worm farm. Line a large cardboard box with a garbage bag. Fill it with soil, organic matter, and a few worms. Keep it shady and moist, but not too wet. Add kitchen scraps (vegetables only!) Worms will help teach your kids about the interdependence of plants and organisms as they turn vegetable kitchen scraps into valuable compost.
  • Garden crafts.There are several projects you can try with your kids, depending on their age and interest, such as hand-painted plant markers or homemade whirligigs to put between rows to frighten off birds. Your local craft store should have all the supplies you need.
  • Feed the birds. Stock up on birdseed and suet at your local garden center, and feed the birds this winter. Have your child keep a record of all the species of birds that come to the feeder and what date each first was spotted.
  • Pot People. Draw or paint faces on small clay pots, then fill with soil. Plant grass seed, water, and watch the "hair" grow.
  • Build a birdhouse. Birdhouse kits and plans are available at most garden centers and craft shops. This is a great activity for a cold winter's night.

Finally, the Library of Congress has compiled some great resources about winter gardens and gardening in winter - check 'em out.

Terrarium photo credit.  Others by Susan Harris.

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