You might think it's too cold to do anything in the garden now, but there's always something to do. Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking.
Shrubs and Trees
- Too much snow on the branches of conifers can cause breakage and permanently spoil the shape of the plant. When snow piles up on evergreens, try to gently brush it off using a broom in an upward, sweeping motion. Don't shake the branches as this may cause them to break. If the snow is frozen on the branch and will not brush off easily, it is best to let it melt naturally to avoid damage to the tree or shrub.
- If a tree limb breaks due to the weight of ice or snow, have it removed as soon as the weather permits. The wound will heal better in spring if it has clean edges instead of ragged tears.
- Protect plants from road and sidewalk salt. If necessary, construct a screen of burlap to keep salt spray off plants.
- Where snow drifts, plan to plant a windbreak next spring. Experiment with a movable barrier to decide the best angle and position for the planting.
- Unless we have an unusually wet winter, evergreens should be watered every four to six weeks. Most deciduous plants are dormant by now, but evergreens keep their needles all winter and can lose water through those needles. Keeping water supplied to the roots during warm, windy, or dry periods will help reduce plant stress. Wait for a day when the temperature is 40° F or more and the ground is not frozen, then water early in the day.
- Assess the energy efficiency of your landscape. Do you have evergreen trees or shrubs blocking a window where the sun's warmth would be welcome? Consider replacing them with deciduous plants that would let sun in during winter, but cast cooling shade in summer.
- Try to scatter snow instead of piling it up on the lawn next to drives and walks.
- Even though the ground may be white and spring is far away, it's not too early to start planning your lawn care schedule. For example, major projects (such as putting in a new lawn), routine maintenance, or addressing specific problems need to be done at the right time, so a reminder on the calendar helps when that month arrives.
- Garden catalogs, which are filling the mailbox these days, make it very easy to order plants that may or may not be wise choices. Zoysiagrass is frequently promoted in magazines or catalogs as very heat and drought tolerant. This is true, but zoysiagrass is actually adapted for southern locations and will be dormant for much of the season in northern Illinois. For this reason, zoysiagrass is usually a straw color for most of spring and fall when other lawns are nice and green.
Perennials, Annuals, and Bulbs
- Sometimes in the middle of winter we suddenly get a few warm, sunny days. For the most part this is not a big problem, but you may need to ventilate your rose cones and coldframes to prevent heat from building up inside. Remember to close the vents before the temperature drops again at night.
- If a few, consecutive, warm days have caused your bulbs to nose out from under protective mulch, plan to thicken the mulch layer before the cold weather returns to prevent freezing by exposure.
- Check perennials to see if any have been pushed out of the ground by alternate freezing and thawing weather. If so, push them back into the soil; otherwise the exposed roots will dry out and die. Replace mulch if it has blown away.
- Empty and move plastic and clay planters indoors for the winter to prevent them from cracking. If your terra cotta pots are discolored by an ugly crust or mold on the surface, soak them in a solution of one cup white vinegar and one cup chlorine bleach to one gallon of warm water before scrubbing with a steel wool pad. Wash all containers thoroughly with a mild bleach solution before storing for next year.
- Wooden barrels and concrete planters can be left outside, but leave the soil in place to prevent barrels from drying and shrinking.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Draw your food garden master plan for the upcoming year, rotating crop locations from last year.
- Check stored produce for rot, shriveling or excess moisture. Remove and discard damaged material.