Winter Gardening Ideas

By Ann H.

The photograph depicts a walled winter garden with a path and a greenhouse, with morning sunlight glistening across the frost on the plants.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

To every thing there is a season. This is especially true for gardeners. Winter may bring a drop in temperatures and light, but surely not idleness for the devoted gardener. Winter is the season to prepare, ponder, and plan!

Prepare your tools for the next season by inspecting them for cleanliness and sharpness. Garden tools get dirty from use and pose risks to your plants by spreading disease. Rust accumulates from moist conditions and sharp edges dull with use. I start by removing any dirt with a stiff wire brush. Then, I use steel wool to rub off any rust. Next, I apply rubbing alcohol with a rag to disinfect. Lastly, I apply a light coat of oil to the metal parts to prevent rust and to keep moving parts working smoothly. I prefer to use a plant-based oil such as linseed oil. Tools used for pruning and cutting should be inspected for sharpness. A dull tool increases the possibility of injury to you and your plants. A few hardware stores in our local community offer tool sharpening services at reasonable prices.

Winter invites pondering the possibilities of spring. My mood soars when I look through seed catalogs and garden books. We can transform any location with a few seeds or humble seedlings. I’ve switched to online seed catalogs and tend to favor local companies such as Meyer Seed Company of Baltimore, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (VA), and Burpee Seeds and Plants (PA). When searching for hard to find or heirloom seed varieties I turn to Seed Savers Exchange, Hudson Valley Seed Company, and Renee’s Garden Seeds. Or, cut down on shipping altogether and head to Clarks Ace Hardware or Southern States Home and Garden Service. They expect their seed selections to arrive by the beginning of February. If you’re starting seeds indoors this winter, be sure to check out the University of MD Extension – Home and Garden Information website for a short tutorial.

Garden-themed books keep my creative juices flowing. Lately, I’ve been pondering ways to grow more food in the Enchanted Garden and still provide plenty of habitat for pollinators. Edible landscaping has been around for decades, but is gaining attention as many people look for ways to grow their own food as well as flowers. Author and gardener Rosalind Creasy has written two trusted books to give you all the detail you need to get started growing a combination of flowers, vegetables, and herbs: Edible Landscaping and The Edible Herb Garden (also available as a ebook through CloudLibrary). Niki Jabbour explains how to garden in any setting and for any level gardener. Check out Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden. Each decision I make about gardening I examine through an “earth stewardship” lens. Reading Doug Tallamy’s latest book, Nature’s Best Hope (also available as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby), reminds me to create a garden that enriches the soil, provides for wildlife, and supports all life.

A photograph of Enchanted Garden Coordinator Ann's gardening plan. This includes a diagram of the garden, with splashes of color in reds, oranges, yellows, pinks, and greys to represent plants and flowers; listed are sunflower, cosmos, and zinnias. Underneath the garden diagram it reads "Front Bed 2020 - Planted May 20 Sunflower - seed savers: Evening Sun. Cosmos - Burpee: Sensation Mixed Colors - not many blooms. Zinnia - Renee's Garden: State Fair Gold Medal (SF). Zinnia - Renee's Garden: Cut & Come Again (CCA)."
A flower garden plan from Enchanted Garden Coordinator Ann.

Planning is part of the fun of gardening.  I enjoy sketching my garden plans to use as a guide and to save from year to year (with notes) as a reminder of what worked and what didn’t turn out as expected. Give me graph paper and color pencils on a cold winter afternoon and I am a happy gardener! If you prefer using online planning tools, try the GrowVeg online planner, which offers a free seven-day trial.  In addition to tailoring your plan to your space and location, the planner allows you to find companion plants and provides start and harvest dates. You can learn more with their helpful overview video.

How do you prepare for a new garden season during winter? What inspires and sustains you when our gardens rest in the cold?

Ann joined the Miller HCLS staff as the Enchanted Garden Coordinator and Instructor in 2012. When not gardening you’ll find her reading, cooking, and exploring trails in the Patapsco River Valley with her husband and dog.

Gardening Delights

A small clump of bright red strawberries still on the stem hangs over the edge of the weathered wood of a garden box.

by Ann Hackeling.

Mention gardening and I smile. Gardening lifts my spirits and keeps me grounded at the same time. I like the feel of damp-crumbly soil, I like to see and imagine the zillions of creatures working together below ground to support life above ground. I feel thankful when new shoots burst through the soil and reach for the sky. My heart warms when I observe birds, bees, and butterflies visit the banquet table I prepare with them in mind.

Gardening makes me smile because I can play a small part in nurturing goodness and beauty from the earth. What I miss the most about the Enchanted Garden is sharing my joy with others. For the past eight years spring meant reconnecting with volunteers and the community in the
Enchanted Garden. My mornings were filled planting, weeding, watering, turning compost… with the help of fellow gardeners and in the company of library visitors. What a treat it was to share that first picked strawberry or witness a bee pollinate a tomato, together.

I am thrilled to be the Enchanted Garden Coordinator and can’t wait to see you in the garden. Until then, I hope you enjoy my On Demand Learning videos, available on the Library’s YouTube channel.

You can also find free online resources available via the Library’s website. You just need a Library card number and PIN. If you don’t have one, you can register for a temporary digital account.

Available to read as an eBook on RB Digital Books: 
Living with Nature Underfoot by John Hainze
Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy
The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon
Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell
The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

And there’s a couple of great magazines in Press Reader: 
Organic Gardener Magazine
Kids Go Gardening,
Kitchen Garden

and in RB Digital Magazines: 
Birds and Blooms
Mother Earth News
Rodale’s Organic Life

Ann is a Master Gardener and the Enchanted Garden Coordinator at the HCLS, where she has worked for HCLS for eight years. You can find her smiling in the garden and sharing her passion for plants, nature, and our community.