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