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.

Milkweed for Monarchs

A bright orange and black monarch butterfly sits on purp
A monarch butterfly flexes its wings in the Enchanted Garden at HCLS Miller Branch.

by Ann H.

Now is a great time to harvest and plant milkweed to support the dwindling monarch population. Milkweed is the host plant of the monarch butterfly. It is where monarch butterflies lay their eggs, and when the eggs hatch the tiny monarch larvae (caterpillars) start chomping away on their one and only food – milkweed leaves. Monarchs cannot complete their life cycle without milkweed. Common milkweed, Swamp milkweed, and Butterfly Weed are all native to Maryland and suitable for the butterflies as they journey through our state. The Enchanted Garden showcases vivid orange Butterfly Weed and, especially this year, an abundance of Common Milkweed. The latter one spreads easily. During the garden closure it found its way to our compost bins, the pathways, and between the rocks lining our stream!

Milkweed seeds are easy and fun to harvest. In the fall, fat pods dry on the plants and burst open to reveal hundreds of seeds in a single pod. Each seed is attached to silky fluff also called coma. That silky fluff allows the seed to float through the air with the hope of landing in fertile soil. You can pull the seeds from the fluff or put an open seed pod in a bag with some pennies for weight, close the bag and shake. The seeds will come loose from the fluff.

Collect and plant seeds now so the seeds get the winter chill or cold stratification they need to germinate in the spring. If you want to wait, put them in a bag in the freezer for a month and they’ll be ready for planting come spring.

Would you like to plant some milkweed? I am happy to share the many common milkweed pods I harvested from the Enchanted Garden. I’ll place a container of pods in front of the Enchanted Garden Gate on days I’m in the garden (see times below) and for as long as the supply lasts. Bring a small bag and take a couple pods home. Every seed planted has the potential to support our monarchs!

WHEN:
Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday
October 19, 20, 21 & 26, 27, 28
9:30 am – 12:30 pm

You can find additional information about Monarchs in our HCLS collection.

For Adults

The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly by Kylie Baumle

Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Co-evolution by Anurag Agrawal

For Children

Monarch Butterflies by Josh Gregory

Monarch Butterflies Matter by Cecilia Pinto McCarthy

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