No seasonal depression here! Our Winter work list keeps us on top.

"What are you doing out there now?!" The neighbor asks. "I see you out there every day and think, 'what else can be left to do?!'"

She's right, we are out there every day. Not so much because there are things that must be done now or never - it isn't spring when everything rushes up out of the ground! - but because we want to be outdoors and there are things that can be done. Since going out for at least 30 minutes every day is hands down the healthiest thing we can do for ourselves and since the things we are doing will put us ahead in spring, we find things to do.

Want to join us? No shame if you decline but for you hardy souls, here's our list:

Nine Worthy Winter Tasks

Sure, sometimes there's cold white stuff...

Sure, sometimes there's cold white stuff...

...but more often it's like this. Layer up (here, Janet's wearing 4 layers up, 3 down and is comfortable to 25F), then have fun while you keep fit.

...but more often it's like this. Layer up (here, Janet's wearing 4 layers up, 3 down and is comfortable to 25F), then have fun while you keep fit.

 

1. Pruning

If there is a thaw, we prune. We look for a period when daytime temperature is above freezing and nighttime lows are above 25F for three days or more. We plan to prune during dry parts of that thaw on all but the last day. That allows a day or more of mild weather for newly-cut limbs to harden against cold. We do not prune when it's wet, to avoid spreading any of the fungi that can infect wood.

What to cut and when to prune in winter...

...for the how-to and lots of illustrations, read Winter Clips.

We watch the weather for a lovely thaw as ongoing through ths weekend: Daytime temps above 32F and nighttime lows above 20F for 3 or more days. Pick a dry day and start clipping.

We watch the weather for a lovely thaw as ongoing through ths weekend: Daytime temps above 32F and nighttime lows above 20F for 3 or more days. Pick a dry day and start clipping.

2. Pick up branches...

...shed by trees or broken off by wind or ice storms. Bundle kindling-sized wood for our neighbors who enjoy bonfire parties. Stack bigger limbs where they can offer shelter or a windbreak for birds and other small animals.

Branches pruned out of a crabapple. Bundled with a bit of string they wait spring disposal or use in a bonfire

Branches pruned out of a crabapple. Bundled with a bit of string they wait spring disposal or use in a bonfire

Who needs toe touches to stay limber? We have trees dropping free mulch all the time. Pick up off the lawn, crumble or cut and spread in gardens where they can do some good.

Who needs toe touches to stay limber? We have trees dropping free mulch all the time. Pick up off the lawn, crumble or cut and spread in gardens where they can do some good.

3. Rake

Clear the lawn below trees and where wind deposits debris. Shred or snap and spread what we've raked as mulch in the far reaches of the garden where appearance is not paramount. Note or flag weedy areas in the lawn for earliest spring work. (By early we mean March, not May.)

Notice or mark the weedy spots in the lawn. Here, yellow rocket (lower left and center) and shepherd's purse (lower left) are poised to flower, seed and spread around before you ever resume mowing. Thistle (upper right) will extend its roots every day of every thaw and become a colony unless you pluck it before spring gets rolling.

Notice or mark the weedy spots in the lawn. Here, yellow rocket (lower left and center) and shepherd's purse (lower left) are poised to flower, seed and spread around before you ever resume mowing. Thistle (upper right) will extend its roots every day of every thaw and become a colony unless you pluck it before spring gets rolling.

4. Spread slow release organic fertilizer...

....on level beds, lawn and groundcover. (Avoiding slopes where solid particles can be sluiced away in heavy rains.) This includes products made from sewage sludge (Milorganite, Fertrell are two), manures and offal (Groganic poultry manure, Driconure, bloodmeal, fishmeal, feathermeal) and agricultural by-products (Gardentone, cottonseed meal). The nutrients in these fertilizers are not available to plants until acted upon by microbial activity in warm soil. So unlike conventional salt-based fertilizers they do not dissolve in water and flow uselessly past inactive roots.

Fertilizers made from plant materials and manure can be applied now, ready to decompose and nourish plants as soon as the soil begins to warm in spring.

Fertilizers made from plant materials and manure can be applied now, ready to decompose and nourish plants as soon as the soil begins to warm in spring.

5. Renew or reinforce deer-, rodent- and rabbit protection.

Sometimes plants are salvageable after early winter damage. Replacing broken stakes, repositioning fencing or wrapping, or reapplying repellents may prevent continued browsing that would make the plant a complete loss by spring. Often, recognizing where the first browse occurs clues us in to the animal's line of approach or between-bites hiding space. Given that insight we can block the path or make it harder to travel between the plant and shelter.

Link to rabbit browse article pictured below.

We would rather find some rabbit damage mid-winter and move to prevent more, than find this devastation in spring.

We would rather find some rabbit damage mid-winter and move to prevent more, than find this devastation in spring.

We are not very concerned about deer browse on this new magnolia, a species deer don't seem to savor. But we are protecting it from randy bucks - the ropes and sturdy stakes interfere with the buck's swinging, bobbing head. We check it periodically and when we find antler scrapes on the stakes we may add more rope.

We are not very concerned about deer browse on this new magnolia, a species deer don't seem to savor. But we are protecting it from randy bucks - the ropes and sturdy stakes interfere with the buck's swinging, bobbing head. We check it periodically and when we find antler scrapes on the stakes we may add more rope.

6. Beat winter weeds.

Normal weeding isn't possible on frozen ground but when there is no snow we can see where winter weeds have germinated in mulch-free or mulch-poor areas. We can smother these (newspaper or yard waste bags laid over the weedy spot and weighted down) or scrape off the tops to kill them or at least reduce seed production in spring. Winter weeds are those species that germinate in late fall or early winter, rest while it's frigid, resume growth in late winter and set seed before the gardener returns in early spring.

More on Winter Weed Control.

 

7. Assess the bones of a design.

Draw lines in the snow to visualize bed edge changes, paths and new beds. Place temporary bright objects to mark focal points and consider their impact.

Some illustrations by way of example, at Design Lines in the Snow.

8. Clean and sharpen tools. 

We can work on small tools indoors but using the electric grinder to sharpen the mower blade, spades and shovels is garage work, as is sanding and oiling the handles of large tools.

Lots of illustrations and directions if you download What's Coming Up 29, a pdf issue that includes our best-ever tool care article.

Sharpening brings pruning tools to mind. However, edging tools, spades and shovels are also delightful to use when sharpened.

Sharpening brings pruning tools to mind. However, edging tools, spades and shovels are also delightful to use when sharpened.

9. Repair benches and arbors

Or in our case, continue or finish those we've started. Our arbors of natural bent wood are held together at first by plastic zip ties until we have added all the branches we need, then we wrap with copper wire (does not rust and does fade to an attractive blue-green over time) and remove all the plastic. Since it's difficult to do with gloves it's a thaw activity, one that can be done even if mist or precipitation prevents pruning.