Winter Gardening: Indoor Trees, Garlic, Bird Baths and More

Even though it's winter, there's plenty to keep you busy in the garden during these chilly months

Credit: GardenWise

Seasonal gardening and plainting tips from Sharron Hanna

Keep your garden functional and thriving during the winter months


  • Live trees don’t like to be inside for more than seven to 10 days. Keep them well watered! Add humidity with low, wide containers of water around the tree’s base, or by misting 
the tree. If you have a deck or 
porch viewable from indoors, your 
living tree will be happier outside.
  • Consider conifers: If your garden lacks life in winter, add a conifer or three. Available in all shapes, sizes, textures and shades from glaucous (blue-grey) to bright green, these reliable cone-bearing evergreen trees and shrubs soothe the eye and heart. 

  • Let leaves lie atop perennials that have completely died down to the ground, just like on the forest floor. Your plants will be insulated and nourished by the decomposing mulch. 

  • When harvesting cabbage, cut out the head, leaving the root and outer leaves planted. Your cabbage will keep growing edible leaves. 

  • Still time to plant broad beans! Add compost to the planting hole and plant index-finger deep. RHS-winner ‘Aquadulce’ is the best cultivar, available online from various seed merchants. 

  • Get your garlic in soon!  

  • Lightly trim roses if you have not already – major pruning is in spring, but if they have any long shoots that would cause them to rock in winter winds, shorten those now. Next, firm up sandy soil at the base of those roses with sturdy boots to keep them from heaving in the frost. Mulch well. 

  • Prune out deadwood on shrubs and trees. Leave grasses and perennials for the birds and to create winter interest in frost and snow.

December Gardening

Attend to bird baths: our feathered friends need to spritz and fluff feathers to stay warm. Some other tips from Wild Birds Unlimited: sprinkle raisins in the snow for overwintering robins and other birds that do not use feeders. Make a seed/fat mix using unsalted peanut butter or beef suet to bind in nuts and seeds, then mould into shapes to hang on trees. Ideal Christmas gifts for bird fans: bird book, wall chart (great for kids), bird-bath heater, feeder or special seed. 

Other gift ideas for gardeners: Cass Turnbull’s Guide to Pruning (Sasquatch Press), written with engaging humour, takes the mystery out of pruning. For science-y types, Mind-Altering and Poisonous Plants of the World (Timber Press) – a complex and fascinating investigation into naughty plants. These books and others are available at UBC’s Shop in the Garden. So are wreaths weaved from plant material in the Botanical Garden, expertly fashioned by garden volunteers – call 604-822-4529 for information

Moss-covered fallen sticks gathered from your yard add pizzazz to tired container plantings. Ditto red or chartreuse-yellow dogwood stems – simply tuck them in. Unremarkable in spring and summer, shrubby dogwoods are a mainstay of winter gardens. Prune individual twigs/stems 20 cm (8 in.) above ground level in early spring to encourage new, highly coloured shoots. 

January Gardening

Sip a cup of tea while contemplating this year’s garden. List veggies, small fruits, fruit trees and beneficial insect-attracting flowers you’d like to plant. 

Regularly check perennials and conifers in containers when the mercury dips – in order to survive, plants must be well hydrated going into a cold snap, otherwise the tissues will desiccate.

Spray fruit trees with dormant oil and lime sulphur while the buds on fruit trees are still tightly closed (before bud break). This takes care of many overwintering “bad” bugs. (Eye protection and gloves are recommended.)

February Gardening

Around Valentine’s day, the sun is high enough that leafy growth can begin again. Overwintered edibles, like chard, parsley, winter lettuce, beets and kale, will now provide an abundance of healthy greens for soups and salads. Soon, if you have a lawn, you’ll have to mow it! 

Lawn area in sun? Consider growing food easily and quickly, “lasagna-garden” style. And look for the Early Spring issue of GardenWise with lots on edibles for your springtime garden!