A garden calendar for winter

Tips and suggestions for the winter gardener from Sharon Hanna.

Tips and suggestions for the winter gardener

You can never have too many alliums
and in warmer areas it’s not too late to plant these and other spring-flowering bulbs: tulips, daffs, crocus, glory of the snow (Chionodexa) and more. Do this before the soil becomes unworkable.

If you’d rather, plant up bulbs in containers to be placed wherever you want at bloom time. The most vulnerable time for bulbs and other plants is when they have begun to grow a bit – usually early to mid February. This is where the expression “being nipped in the bud” might have come from! If we have a very cold spell, protect tender potted bulbs by draping them with burlap sacks, or moving to a more sheltered location, perhaps even the basement.

Check evergreen shrubs, conifers and perennials in containers for moisture especially if it’s very cold with added wind chill. Plants can become dehydrated and not recover.

Plant exotic amaryllis
using sterilized indoor potting mix, leaving one third of the bulb above soil level. Water lightly once, providing bottom heat until the bud emerges, then give it bright, indirect light. Bulbs rot easily so be stingy with water until growth takes off.

Dig dahlias and other summer bulbs if you haven’t already; clean and store somewhere frost-free.

You can still plant garlic if ground can be worked. There are oodles of varieties available to home gardeners: ‘Evans’, ‘Music’, ‘Spanish Roja’, ‘Korean’, ‘Sicilian Gold’ (a softneck, perfect for braiding), ‘Persian Star’ and more. See my blog for step-by-step instructions!

Sow seed for wildflowers (appropriate for your area!), larkspur, clarkia, godetia, calendula, beautiful blue bachelor buttons and annual poppies by mid-month. They’ll bloom earlier than if spring sown.

Add some lights to your garden – a little twinkle goes a long way and creates cheer as nights get their longest.

Support UBC Botanical Garden by purchasing an exquisite handmade wreath made by Friends of the Garden available late November through early December. Call 604-822-4529 for info.

Consider giving some of the plants described above as gifts to your plant-loving friends! Group a few together in a basket, drape with moss and trim with a bauble. Or see our suggestions for beautiful garden-inspired gifts.

As winter arrives, begin feeding wild birds as their food supply dwindles. This is another good reason for not cleaning up your garden too much in fall – there’s a lot of food for critters that may not be obvious unless you observe your garden closely “off season.” Keep feeding stations clean. Birds appreciate water too, especially if the weather is dry or cold. Attract blue and Steller’s jays by putting out peanuts – unshelled – on railings.

If the entrance to your home feels lacklustre, see what’s in store at your local garden centre. Conifers in all shapes and shades of green, snowberry, purple callicarpa, red-berried skimmia or variegated holly – all will look great potted at your doorway. Create a holiday display with an old sled, topped with plant-filled pots and decorated with red ribbons and yellow- or red-twigged dogwood branches.

Ensure stored bulbs are not withering – sprinkle or spray lightly with water, or put them in slightly dampened peat moss or shredded newspaper. Bulbs need air circulation or they may rot.

As long as the ground is not frozen it’s fine to plant small fruits like blueberries, raspberries, grapes, dormant fruit trees, and, on the coast, any bargain-priced perennials you can find. Perennials will double in size by next spring so it’s worth considering a late-fall planting.

Long-lived Christmas “cactus”
is not a cactus but a succulent and thrives with regular watering when actively growing. Do allow soil to dry out occasionally, and feed modestly every three weeks until blooms drop. Situate in good light, out of hot/cold drafts. These plants love to be outdoors and can gradually be accustomed to sunlight in late spring. Bring indoors before hard frost.

Should the mercury dip severely, protect potted plants and those in your unheated greenhouse. Bring containers of rosemary indoors for a few days – they’ll be fine inside for up to a couple of weeks.

Salt is toxic to most garden plants
and is best not used to melt snow near anything growing. Look for an environmentally friendly substitute – there are many available. Shake snow off upright coniferous trees – too much can bend or break branches. A bamboo rake or broom works great for this purpose.

See Sharon Hanna’s monthly gardening to-do list >>