University of Illinois Extension

Winter Gardening Tasks

Because it always provides “something to do,” gardening can be a year-round activity, said Sharon Yeilsa, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. “And if you can’t think of any gardening tasks for the winter months, here are some tips to get you going.”

Some assume that just because the weather is cold the ground must be frozen.

“The ground takes longer to cool off than the air does,” she noted. “As long as the ground is not frozen and can accept water, you should water at least your evergreens. Most of the other plants are fairly dormant by winter and not using much water. Evergreens, on the other hand, keep their needles all winter and can lose water through those needles.

“Keeping water supplied to the evergreen’s roots on a weekly basis as long as possible into the winter and winter season will help reduce stress.”

Winter means the threat of snow and ice damage to trees and shrubs is always a possibility.

“When snow piles up on evergreens, try to gently brush it off,” Yiesla said. “Don’t shake the branches as this may cause them to break. If the snow is frozen on the branch and will not brush off easily, it is best to let it melt naturally to avoid damage to the tree or the shrub.

“If tree limbs break due to the weight of ice or snow, it is advisable to have the broken limbs removed as soon as the weather permits. Hanging branches can be a danger to passing pedestrians. Also, the tree will be able to heal the wound better in spring, if the wound has clean edges instead of ragged tears.”

A sudden warm spell in mid-winter is a good time to check for problems. If roses are covered with cones, it may be time to ventilate the cones to prevent heat from building up inside. The same should be done with cold frames.

“If it is a warm, sunny day, the temperatures may be rising in the cold frame more than you expect,” she noted. “Remember to close vents as the temperatures drop again at night.”

Indoors, it is important to keep holiday plants fresh and blooming. Most of the blooming holiday plants prefer to be in a cool room. This keeps the plant in flower longer. Most holiday plants also need a bright room (some do well with direct sun, others do not). Keep these plants out of drafts to keep them in good health.

“If you order seeds from catalogs, get your order in by the end of January,” Yiesla recommended. “Early orders help ensure that you get the seeds you want and that you have them in time to start them indoors if you want.”

It is very common to find insects meandering around the house in winter, she added.

“All of these critters come into the house looking for a place to rest for the winter,” she said. “Common nuisance pests are box elder bugs, house flies, squash bugs, and the multi-colored Asian ladybeetles. As you encounter these insects, just vacuum them up. Avoid smashing them as some leave stains or odors when smashed.”

It is important not to store firewood in the house. Insects can come in with firewood.

“Leave the wood outside until you are ready to build a fire,” she said. “Firewood should never be treated with insecticides, and insecticides are often not needed for most insect home invaders.”