Winter gardening tips from Jesse

winter treeJesse Gilbertson’s December garden tips.  Jesse is U City in Bloom’s horticultural director.

“So, what do you do in the winter?” When ever someone finds out what I do for a living that is easily one of the first inquiries that comes up. When I begin to answer I never really know where to start. This is an interesting time of the year and there are a lot of different things to do.

To start off, this is the best time to review successes of the past growing season. Your mind is still fresh with the finer details and this will help as you plan for the next growing season. What plants worked and why? Or what beds dried out the quickest? How can I improve my landscape? On the coldest days start to browse through catalogs and magazines or draw up designs or plant lists for the following year. Contact your favorite garden center and ask that they order what you are looking for the next year or find a seed source online. In the gray of the Saint Louis winter these activities hold the promise of spring.

Right now is a good time to clean the garden. Most of the leaves have fallen and depending on your taste you can rake them out and remove them or let them become part of your mulch for next year. At home I like to run my lawn mower over my raked leaves and blow them back into the beds as a light layer of insulating mulch to carry through the winter. Another task to do is to cut back perennials and remove dead annuals. This is more important for landscape businesses to get ahead for the coming year. It is a good practice though to leave your plants up until the spring because beneficial insects and birds use them for overwintering habitat. With the garden clean you can mulch with a light layer of leaf mold and repeat again in the spring if you have the time or just wait until the end of winter to add a good layer of mulch.

We are now getting into an excellent time to prune most deciduous trees and shrubs. Without foliage it is easier to see the structure of the plant as we prune. Also insect and disease pests are dormant so we reduce the chance of infection. Wait until the end of winter before pruning evergreens and some of the more tender or marginally hardy shrubs.

It is hard to explain during the winter that I truly enjoy being out in it. Even on the coldest days we can connect with our gardens as we work. Get out there and enjoy the crunch of the frozen soil under your boot and feel the exhilarating bite of the wind on your cheeks. Just make sure to bundle up!

Some other tasks for the winter gardener:

-Continue planting bulbs up to and a little past the new-year, they won’t mind getting in a little late.

-Redesign existing beds or start planning new designs.

-Remove that Honeysuckle and Winter Creeper. It should have been done last winter!

-Read, read and read some more.

-Mow Liriope at the beginning of the new-year if there are bulbs planted within it so you don’t end up cutting off emerging foliage in the spring. I learned this on the hard way.

-This is an excellent time to find holes and depressions and add soil to level the grade.

-Send in soil samples for analysis.

-Fence young trees to prevent rabbit damage. If you have deer…good luck!

-Keep those tools sharp and clean and replace any cracked handles.

-Visit garden centers – The staff are bored and can tell you about anything new they are getting or take requests. It is also a good time to get deals on pots and other garden accessories.

-On warmer dry and windy days water the foliage of any evergreens planted last year.

-Cut back any foliage that is flopping or broken on ornamental grass for a tidy look.

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