Your Essential Winter Gardening To-Do List
Everything you need to know about maintaining your winter garden and paving the way for spring growth, tailored to every region in the West
Buy seed for herbs and long-season vegetables. Get eggplants, melons, peppers, tomatoes, and winter squash; start them indoors late next month for planting outside in May.
Sow warm-season edibles indoors late this month to ready them for transplanting into your garden in May. An excellent one to try: ‘Mini Love’ watermelon, a 2017 All-America Selections winner that produces up to six small melons on 4-foot vines.
To make fast work of winter pruning, use good bypass pruners (like Felco #2) on anything smaller than your thumb, and a hardened, tri-edged folding saw (like an 8-inch Silky Gomboy with medium teeth) on branches.
To remove a large branch, cut through the bottom third of it, 12 inches from the trunk; then saw it off 2 inches beyond the first cut. Finally, cut the stub off just outside the branch collar.
Snow makes the garden look like a fairyland, but it also disfigures woody plants. Sweep fresh snow off branches right away and plants should recover.
Succulents and sedums are easy to propagate from any pieces that break off from the parent plant. Allow the leaf or segment to dry for a few days and then lay on moistened perlite in bright, indirect light. When roots or new leaves appear, transplant into a small pot filled with a potting mix formulated for cactus and succulents.
Prune deciduous trees by removing branches that are dead, cross through the middle of the tree, or rub up against one another. Be sure to cut any sucker growth from the base.
To keep roots safe from frost, wind, or drought, replenish bare patches where mulch has blown or washed away. Hay, leaves, and straw protect plants best when they’re layered 6 to 8 inches deep. Keep bark and rock mulch 2 to 3 inches deep.
While deciduous trees are bare, decide whether the garden needs more privacy in winter. Choose plants depending on the type of screening you want. Fern pine (Podocarpus gracilior) forms a dense hedge, whereas Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Sheen’ has an open, airy habit that allows light to filter through. Both are evergreen and require little water or care to thrive.
Browse nurseries for bare-root berries, grapes, and roses. Once they are home, unwrap any plastic around the roots and put the plants in a bucket; cover roots loosely with potting soil. Water enough to prevent soil from drying out until you are ready to plant.
Refresh the vegetable garden by sowing seeds of crucifers and lettuces. Plant onion sets just below the soil surface so the point of the bulb is visible.
Sprinkle granular organic fertilizer around the bases of established fruit trees out to the canopy drip line. Rain will help the fertilizer percolate into the soil.
Check drip-irrigation lines for kinks and clogs. Run the system for a few minutes, paying close attention to which emitters are not working. Straighten lines and use a pin or needle to free any trapped grit in emitters.
Pick ripened citrus as you need it. Leave unripe fruit to hang; it won’t get sweeter once picked.
Keep your veggie garden productive by sowing seeds of kale, leek, lettuce, mustard, green and bulb onion, parsley, pea, radish, spinach, and Swiss chard. Inland, choose varieties that withstand frost, including thick-leafed lettuce, flat-leaf parsley, and savoy spinach.
For cool-season color, sow and plant alyssum, bachelor’s button, calendula, coreopsis, delphinium, hollyhock, and poppy.
For deciduous fruit trees, prune dead, crossing, and vertical growing branches. Scatter balanced organic granular fertilizer around fruit tree bases so they’ll absorb the nutrition when they “wake up” from dormancy.
Divide and replant any overcrowded perennials, including agapanthus, chrysanthemums, and daylilies. To reduce shock from the move, water plants before and after planting.
Cut broccoli heads at a slant so rain and overhead watering won’t settle in the stem hole and rot the entire plant.
Deter snails and slugs with food-grade diatomaceous earth. Made from the remains of microscopic algae, it can be sprinkled directly on garden beds. Reapply after each rain.
Plant bare-root grapes in full sun along south or west exposures and amend soil with compost. Good low-desert table varieties include ‘Flame’, ‘Muscat’, and ‘Thompson Seedless’.
Even on an apartment balcony, Foodmap’s rolling container makes it easy to grow vegetables, herbs, or succulents. Because the rectangular bed is on wheels, it can be easily moved to sun or shade—or even indoors for frost protection.
Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) is the low-growing perennial for attracting queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus) during the warm months. Provide boneset with moderate irrigation and cut back in late spring for best summer appearance.
Pot up aloe pups in cactus soil mix in small containers and put them indoors in sunny windows. That way, you’ll have some aloes that will bloom in early spring (and ready replacements for any outdoor plants that may get damaged by frost).
Plant wildflowers like Cleveland sage (a woody perennial) and tidy tips (Layia platyglossa).