How Master Gardeners Weather the Winter

Posted: January 9, 2012

When Master Gardeners gather over a cup of coffee in January, they don’t lack for things to talk about. Here is some of the advice culled from Master Gardener columns in the past few years on ideas and activities for gardeners during the cold season.

Betty Jakum reminded us of the lingering beauty in our gardens when she wrote: “You can enjoy a beautiful garden no matter what season of the year. Carefully selecting plants for their evergreen foliage, colorful barks and interesting form, and bright berries will add interest to your landscape all winter long.  Junipers, firs, cedars, spruces, hemlocks, hollies, boxwood and pines give color as well as structure to the winter garden. They also provide nesting and roosting sites for birds and shelter small animals under low hanging branches. The berries and cones of evergreens feed animals, and small birds eat their seeds.”  In addition to color, Betty noted that different barks provide texture to the winter landscape.  “Often hidden behind a veil of green during the spring and summer, shrubs and trees with unusual bark and interesting form really stand out once the leaves have fallen. The Red Twig Dogwood adds color to the winter landscape after its leaves are gone. Another tree sporting a unique bark is the River Birch. A native, it has a scaly bark in colors from light reddish to cinnamon brown. It offers a rich textural contrast anytime of year, but especially in winter.” 

One winter, Kay Hinkle told us, “If you want to dress up your winter garden for next year, start planning now. Check out your local nursery for the many varieties of hardy shrubs that are guaranteed to provide winter color. Ask for the earliest blooming varieties of witch hazel so that you can pick up a new color in your winter landscape that begins just after the holidays.”  Kay also pointed out that, in winter “garden ornaments such as statuary and birdbaths take on new meaning. Hardscape in your winter garden provides special interest as the snow drifts against and covers part but not all to form a unique design. We use appropriate pieces of hardscape, such as light poles, fences or wagon wheels, to suspend bird feeders or hold suet cages. The birds appreciate the nourishment and provide a colorful show on bright days when they come out to stock up for the next storm. We encourage our feathered friends to dine and put up extra feeders in exchange for their cheery songs.”

If you’ve just got to plant something, recall Julie Falk’s experiment with growing microgreens on the windowsill. She said, “ Microgreens are fun, easy and cheap to grow.  You can use a flat, or even the plastic containers you bring home from restaurants.  Just fill the shallow container with soil or potting mix, taking care to punch holes in the bottom for drainage.  Plant your seeds and cover with about one quarter inch of soil.  The choice of seeds to plant can vary wildly.  The most popular are probably leaf lettuce or lettuce mixes, but you can gainfully plant many others – beets, kale, parsley, basil, cilantro and arugula among them.”

Sue Bucher had a lot of ideas about avoiding winter blues related to gardening inactivity.  Here are a few of her suggestions:  “It is a good time to clean and repair your garden tools.  Transplant and maintain your houseplants. Divide some of your plants to start as gifts for upcoming holidays such as Easter and Mother’s Day.”  Sue said you could sprout alfalfa seeds from the health food store for eating, or for the really ambitious, “Consider purchasing or even building an Indoor Grow Lab that will allow you to start plants from seeds, propagate root cuttings, raise flowering foliage and vegetable plants, force plants to flower and experiment with how plants respond to light.”

If you’d like more ideas about winter garden interests, explore the archive of Master Gardener columns at  Just say no to the winter blues.

All the authors are Penn State Extension Master Gardeners from Adams County.  Penn State Cooperative Extension of Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg.  Call 334-6271.