12 Gardening Tasks for the Off-Season
Even if your winter weather is frightful, there's still a lot of gardening you can do, inside and outside.
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Those gardeners who lock their sheds and hang up their tools until spring are missing out on a great season to garden — winter. There’s still lots to do, indoors and out.
Winter gives me time for one of my favorite things — sorting all my seeds and deciding what to plant in the spring. I browse through seed catalogs and scroll through websites, looking at all the new and old varieties. When the first seed display shows up at the store, I’m drawn to it like a magnet to steel.
Here are 12 ideas for what to do with your idle gardening hands in the wintertime.
Start a Garden Journal
Take stock of your garden and start writing about it in a journal. Many garden journals are filled with prompts to help you decide what to write about.
Grow Food Indoors
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Sean and Allison McManus, authors of The First-Time Gardener: Growing Plants and Flowers, recommend growing food indoors during the winter. You can start with microgreens, or consider edible plants with a hydroponic system.
Organize Your Seeds and Place Orders for More Seeds
Have you accumulated a big pile of seeds? The McManuses suggest sorting through them all.
When stored properly, many flower and vegetable seeds remain viable for several years. Toss old packets and make a list of seeds to buy for spring. Buy or order your seeds as soon as possible to avoid finding a “sold out” banner across the picture of that one tomato variety you planned to make the centerpiece of your garden.
Get Rid of Unused Pesticides
Wintertime is also a good time to clear out pesticides you no longer plan to use. And be sure to dispose of them properly!
Many counties and cities specify days and locations where you can drop off unwanted chemicals. During winter months, they’re often less busy than in spring and fall when everyone’s cleaning out their garage.
Clean, Sharpen and Organize Your Tools
The best time to clean and sharpen any tool is right after you use it. The next best time is the off-season.
If your gardening tools are scattered all over, round them up and give them a home base. Doing that, and painting wood handles with bright colors that will stand out in the garden, should help you avoid losing too many tools.
When cleaning your tools, don’t be timid about sharpening pruners and clippers. It’s a skill you can easily learn. Buy replacements for broken tools that can’t be repaired.
Winter is the perfect time to tend houseplants. Check them regularly for signs of insect pests and make sure they’re getting enough water. If they look dusty, give them a good rinse in the shower.
Treat yourself to a few new houseplants, too. Many garden centers are well-stocked all winter long. Go on days when temperatures are above freezing, or bundle up your new houseplant in several bags and park close to the door so you don’t expose it to frigid temps.
Design a New Garden
Whether you do it yourself or with the help of a professional, winter is the perfect time to design garden renovations or a whole new garden. Find gardeners you like on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok for inspiration.
Get Estimates for Big Projects
If your garden plans call for big-ticket items like a potting shed or new fence, start researching contractors. Ask for recommendations from your gardening community and read online reviews. Then contact several contractors for estimates. They may want to wait until spring, but you’ll have made that important initial contact.
Join a Local Garden Club or Master Gardeners Group
Winter is a great time to join a local garden club. If you aren’t sure if there’s one in your area, check the listings maintained by National Garden Clubs. To learn more about gardening, check out your state’s Master Gardener program. Classes are offered throughout the year.
Visit a Local Botanical Garden or Plant Conservatory
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If you live near a botanical garden or plant conservatory, it’s fun to visit them in winter. When the snow is flying, one of the nicest places to be is inside a conservatory filled with tropical plants. The scent of leaf mold and soil will get you excited for warm weather in your own garden.
Weed Your Garden
According to Tasha Greer, author of Weed-Free Gardening: A Comprehensive and Organic Approach to Weed Management, weed-proof your garden in the winter.
If it doesn’t snow where you live, rake up small weed seedlings and expose their roots to cold temperatures or sunlight so they don’t re-root. You can also deprive them of sunlight by covering them with cardboard, topped by layers of leaves, wood chips or mulch.
Walk Through Your Garden
Don’t stay inside all winter. When weather permits, walk through your garden and look for signs of trouble so you can address them right away.
Plants heaving out of the soil? Gently push them back in. Signs of rabbits or rodents gnawing on young trees and shrubs? Create a chicken wire barrier to protect those plants. Forgot to mulch your strawberries? Do it as soon as possible. Branches broken on trees? Prune them when you see them.
You get the idea. Even in the winter, there’s always something you can do in or for your garden.