“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream.”
I love this quote from Josephine Neuse, author of the 1970 book The Country Garden. Learning, dreaming and planning is one of my favorite parts about growing flowers and gardening in general and the pile of books on my nightstand reflects that. But before I can kick my feet up by the fire to catch up on my reading and research, there are a few things I try to wrap up outside.
Here is my winter gardening task list:
1. GARDEN CLEAN-UP:
Winters in Texas can be cold and icy, or they can be bright and sunny. Those bright and sunny days are perfect for finishing any leftover fall clean up.
- Rake and dispose of fallen leaves
- trim back unsightly dead growth (flowering perennials, grasses)
- only trim woody plants back if they are too large; plants like Russian sage, roses, abelia and other shrubs put new leaves on existing wood
- mulch for protection.
- Make sure that any diseased foliage is thrown away or burned and clean your tools after touching the foliage. A swipe with rubbing alcohol works great.
- address any drainage issues
- neaten up any flower bed borders, adding rock or edging.
2. POT UP INDOOR BULBS:
Paperwhites and amaryllis do not need to be chilled and therefore make the perfect candidate for indoor force blooming. To do this:
- purchase healthy, spot-free bulbs
- find pots with drainage holes that allow about an inch around the bulb’s edge. If planting multiple bulbs together, pack them fairly tight but not touching.
- I like to plant them in a plastic pot, then set the pot down into a “pretty” container.)
- mix potting soil with vermiculite (I use roughly half and half)
- add enough water so that the soil molds to your hand when you clench a fist full, but does not drip water
- then fill the container half full then nestle the bulb into the soil where the neck to top one-third is exposed.
- leave as is, or top dress with small stones or moss
- place in a bright, indirect light location that ideally stays between 60 and 70 degrees F
- do not water again until you see green growth and never let the soil sit soggy
Enjoy beautiful blooms inside even during the winter! (These make fabulous gifts!)
3. ORGANIZE YOUR WORKSPACE:
Organizing the garage / shop / barn is never a favorite chore. But spring and summer will be much more efficient and enjoyable with this task finished. On my list this winter:
- make a peg-hanging system for all of my hand and garden tools
- clean and organize my seed starting area, making note of any supplies that I will need such as soil, fertilizer, plug trays, labels, water spray heads, etc.
- put a gate on my “barn bed.”
4. PLAN! THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART!
Take pictures, peruse Pinterest, clip magazines, save Instagram photos, read books, study seed catalogs. Now is the best time to plan out your spring and summer garden! As soon as the soil can be worked, beds can be prepared by adding compost and natural fertilizers. Wait to plant shrubs, trees, and most flowers until after the last frost date (for zone 8a, that date is approximately April 2nd;
Find out your growing zone here: https://garden.org/nga/zipzone/. )
I recommend pulling out a journal or notepad and go through this list of questions:
- What didn’t work this year? Did something outgrow its space? Did a crop or plant struggle all season? Do I have any gaps in my flowers and foliage or flower beds? Note any adjustments that need to be made. Some changes I’m going to make this year are to have my first round of warm-season annuals ready to plant out by the end of March (I’ll watch the weather to determine the exact plant-out date). I also plan to add more succession plantings of crops such as basils, zinnias, cosmos, celosia and sunflowers. If you’d like to see my planting list, let me know and I’ll post specifics.
- Are there any crops I’m ready to try? At the farm we are trying peonies and dahlias this season. My first try at dahlias was a disaster. Fish fertilizer should definitely be diluted!
- How much growing space do I have? Can I add some things to existing beds? Each season, I add a new landscaped bed. But until I’m ready to plant it, I usually “hold” the bed with an annual crop. For example, last summer I planted perennials in front of our bedroom window, but until I had the money saved and time for it, I planted zinnias there for cutting. Use what you have!
- look through both your photos and other photos for inspiration and list out what you want to accomplish in your gardens / yard this season.
- Prioritize that list and start putting cost, design and time information with it.
- Add the items that are doable into your calendar. Make sure to gather the supplies, seeds, plants, etc. that you will need ahead of time.
A handful of annuals can be directly seeded into a flower garden several weeks before the last frost date. Hardy annuals actually need colder temperatures to germinate (in fact, putting the seed packets in the freezer for a couple of weeks is recommended.) My favorites are larkspur, bells of Ireland, nigella and bupleurum.
Here is my favorite place to purchase seed.
Since a huge part of planning for me is reading, I’m listing some of the books that I plan to read or reread over the winter months:
- Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein. This book is what gave me both the dream and courage to start my cut flower farm. I refer to it often and love the way it’s organized by seasons. A must-read if you want to grow cut flowers.
- The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski. An excellent resource.
- Cool Flowers by Lisa Mason Ziegler. Hardy annuals can be a tricky group to figure out; this book is the answer. Another one I refer to often. I also love that Lisa has grown for decades without any hoop houses, so her information is extremely helpful to beginner gardeners.
- Vegetables Love Flowers also by Lisa Mason Ziegler. I bought this book to read on our summer trip to Colorado a few years ago. I accidentally finished it before we even got out of Texas. (Texas is a huge state, but I flew through this one…so interesting).
- In Bloom by Clare Nolan. This book is beautiful and inspiring and her arrangements feel doable.
I hope that this list is helpful. I’d love to hear about your gardening plans, dreams, and aspirations. I’d also love to know what your favorite resources are, whether it be books, classes, or websites.
Happy planning! Happy gardening!