What Gardeners do in Winter

Gardening is my favorite hobby so people always ask, “What do you do in the winter?” In addition to a countdown to Spring, I have compiled a list of monthly gardening ideas to help get through the cold, gray days of winter.

* Plant a winter interest container garden to liven up the front porch. Plant a dwarf conifer, a winter flowering hellebore, an Oregon grape, and a weepy grass in a decorative pot.

* Repot indoor house plants and feed them with either an organic plant food or an herbal nettle & comfrey tea. Over time, plants deplete nutrients in the soil and because they are indoor plants and have no help from worms or other creatures in the garden, they need a little help. Particularly, flowering house plants need sufficient amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous. To make the herbal tea, fill a pot of water and bring to a boil, turn off the heat, add the mineral rich herbs, let the tea steep for about 30 minutes, strain out the plant, let cool, and water.

* Make a New Year’s resolution to plant more native plants, edibles, and herbs in your garden this year. A favorite native plant no garden should be without is red flowering current. This beautiful flowering shrub will attract hummingbirds to your garden. Other great berry producing natives to attract birds and other wildlife include: oceanspray, black twinberry, Douglas hawthorn, Oregon grape, squashberry, and highbush cranberry. Great easy to grow edibles include blueberry, raspberry, and honeyberry shrubs.  Herbs that should have a place in every garden include: rosemary, oregano, lemon thyme, lavender, lemon verbena, and chamomile (just to name a few).

* Visit local nurseries to purchase winter interest garden plants such as; conifers, red osier dogwood, hellebore, witch hazel, daphne, evergreen huckleberry, wax myrtle, Oregon grape, ferns, and native sedum.

* Sign up for plant-related seminars around town. Visit the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon web site to see what upcoming classes, seminars, and plant sales are planned for 2014.


* Plan a day trip to Seattle for the annual Northwest Flower and Garden Show to view dozens of garden displays, attend gardening seminars, buy plants and gardening related items. This one of a kind garden show is well worth the road trip.

* Harvest stinging nettles and make tea, nettle miso soup, a nettle stir fry, or nettle/spinach pie. These prickly plants are packed with vitamins and minerals and have a delicious earthy taste. They can be harvested from February through April (they must be harvested before flowering).

* Buy bare root plants.  They are less expensive than container plants and are only available during the cold winter months.  Perfect bare root plants to buy: native shrubs, blueberries, grape vines, and raspberries.

* Check out local native plant sales. In Portland, my favorite is the Backyard Habitat Program plant sale. 

* Dream of warm, sunny days ahead and begin planning your garden. Order seed catalogs, check out gardening books from the library, spend some time in Powell’s Books garden section. Below are some of my favorite garden books:

This Organic Life – Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Joan Gussow

In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan

Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy

Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv

The Wild Braid, Stanley Kunitz

The Householders Guide to the Universe, Harriet Fasenfast

* Start sweet pea seeds inside the house. Place seeds on a paper towel on a plate and add water (daily) until they sprout. This should take just a few days. Plant sweet pea sprouts in the ground when they are about 1-2 inches tall. They need to go into the ground during the cooler months of Spring.

* Put on your boots and rain jackets and visit natural areas and parks where you live to see how nature designs gardens.

* Look for the first native plants to bloom such as: Oregon grape, Indian plum, black twinberry, and red flowering current. These beautiful, flowering native shrubs are the first signs that spring has arrived.

*Celebrate the first day of Spring on March 20th. Be thankful the days are getting longer!