Six Winter Garden Chores

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Six Winter Garden Chores

It may be cold outside, but that doesn’t mean you can just forget about your garden in winter.

Even in December and January, I’m always surprised by how much there still is to do outside. So, grab your scarf and warm coat!

Here are six winter garden chores you might need to do, especially if you live in a cold climate where temperatures regularly drop below freezing.

Six Winter Garden Chores-snowy-chair

1) Finish Clean Up. As hard as I try, I often leave something outside during my fall cleanup. Now is a good time to make sure you put away any furniture, gardening pots, planters and tools, which you may have accidentally left outside in the fall.

All these items can get damaged in wet winter weather.  Terra cotta, concrete or ceramic pots can crack in freezing temperatures. Plastic chairs should be okay in a mild snow, but metal chairs can rust badly during a moist winter.  All kind of tools will get ruined, without protection, your Fiskars Long-Handle Digging Shovel.

So, I always plan a final inspection of my garden. And I look for anything that should be put away safely in a covered, dry spot, until warmer, sunnier days return.

2) Prune Dead Branches. You never want to prune much in winter, as this could stimulate new plant growth. But you can remove torn or hanging branches that could attract pests, or injuries.

Just proceed with caution. Remember some “dead” looking branches are really dormant. And the last thing you want to do is start a lot of new growth that will die in freezing temperatures.  I did that once with an elder tree in my yard, and it has never been the same since. That’s why I look at this time as my “preventive pruning” time with my Fiskars PowerGear bypass pruners, and I save more intensive pruning for early-spring and summer, depending on the plant.

3) Mulch Gardens. When the ground has frozen, and plants have entered dormancy, it’s time to add winter mulch to your garden. Waiting until now helps prevent rodents from building nests in your mulch. And winter mulch ensures that your garden soil stays a constant cool temperature.  

That’s a good thing, because you don’t want your plants to start growing during warm spells only to die back during the next cold snap. So, mulch well, but keep your mulch a couple inches from the plant stem to prevent pests and pathogens.

Six Winter Garden Chores-snow-on-branch

4) Remove Snow from Plants Gently.  Most trees survive a snowy winter just fine, although the stalks of ornamental grasses will break from the weight of too much snow.  

Although your tree branches can handle a lot, if they do get overloaded with snow, remember this advice: don’t shake the branches to dump the snow. This will probably break the branches, especially if temperatures fall below 20 degrees F.  

If you can, gently brush off snow as it falls onto the plants. But if the snow has already frozen on the branch, let the ice melt naturally.  Typically, winter snow is good protective mulch for plants, and provides often-needed moisture as it melts.

5) Order Catalogs. Maybe it’s because I’m a plant geek, but I often start ordering my favorite catalogs even before the end of the year.  I recommend looking over your winter garden and any garden journals to see which plants did and didn’t do well last growing season. Consider what you might want to try in the spring. That way you can immediately place your orders in the New Year, without risking your favorites selling out too quickly.

Six Winter Garden Chores-bird-house

6) Feed and Shelter Birds. Taking care of the birds is one of my favorite winter chores. I’m always impressed that certain bird species can handle frigid temperatures, so I’m glad to help them out with food and shelter.

Black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, millets, suet and fruits are possibilities for winter bird foods. This combination of foods will attract a variety of birds to your garden.

I prefer cracked sunflower seeds, not whole seeds, because the birds make a mess out of the shells under the feeder. Having a heated water source is also a big plus for birds, as much of their available drinking water is often frozen in winter.

My friends Victoria and Kim Williams provide different shelters for birds in their Idaho garden, as you can see above and below. This ensures they have plenty of pleasant bird watching activities throughout December, winter and much of the year.  That’s a nice reward for such a simple winter gardening chore, don’t you think?


What winter chores are your favorites ... or least favorites?