University of Illinois Extension


Sharon Yiesla
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Lake County

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Winter Gardening Tips

It seems that gardening is a year round activity. There is always something to do. If you can’t think of any gardening tasks, here are a few tips to get you thinking.

Watering: Just because the weather is cold, doesn’t mean the ground has frozen. The ground takes longer to cool off than the air does. 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 now 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 roots on a weekly basis as long as possible into the fall and winter season will help reduce stress on those evergreens.

Snow and ice on trees and shrubs: As we get into winter, the threat of damage from snow and ice is always near. When snow piles up on evergreens, try to gently brush it off. 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 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.

Warm spells in winter: Sometimes in the middle of winter, we suddenly get a few warm days. For the most part, this is not a big problem, but you may need to check on a couple of things. If you covered your roses with rose cones, you may need to ventilate the cone to prevent heat from building up inside. The same should be done with coldframes. If it is a warm, sunny day, the temperatures may be rising in the cold frame more than you expect. Remember to close vents as the temperature drops again at night.

Holiday plants: Turning to the indoor environment, we need to keep our holiday plants fresh and blooming. Most of our 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.

Seed orders: If you order seeds from a catalog, get your order in by the end of January. Early orders help insure that you get the seeds you want and that you have them in time to start them indoors if you want.

Nuisance insects: It is very common to find insects meandering around the house in winter. All kinds of critters come into the house looking for a place to rest for the winter. Common nuisance pests are boxelder bugs, houseflies, squash bugs and the multicolored Asian ladybeetles. As you encounter nuisance insects, just vacuum them up. Avoid smashing them as some leave stains or odors when smashed.

Don’t store firewood in the house. Insects can come in with firewood. Leave the wood outside until you are ready to build a fire. Firewood should never be treated with insecticides and insecticides are often not needed for most home invaders.


December 2000 - January 2001: Winter Gardening Tips | Plants and Light | Botrytis (Gray Mold): A Disease for Many Plants | Choosng a Christmas Tree Variety | Key Questions for Garden Catalogs

Past Issues

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