What Gardeners do in Winter

for the love of gardening

Ann Greer-Wootten

Most people in our area think you can garden for only a relatively short period between the last frost, usually in mid May, and the first frost of autumn, often in September. But it is possible to garden for twelve months of the year in Peterborough. It all depends on what you think of as gardening. Let's start with January, one of the bleakest months of the year. This is the month to dream, plan and prepare for the new gardening year. By now most of the seed catalogues are in and it's time to fill our orders and even to start sowing some annuals, like geraniums.

If you are planning a new garden or renovating an old one, this is the month to start. It may sound insane, but if you need the advice of an expert, now is the time to call in a landscaper. Just try waiting until May and you will be totally out of luck. A good landscaper is like an artist and will approach your garden as if it were a canvas. If you want to do the actual hard physical work yourself then a landscaper can provide you with a plan. Even the most experienced gardener often needs an expert's advice, especially when trees and shrubs become overgrown and perennial beds grow totally out of control. And this happens to even the best of gardeners!

There is work to be done outside as well. It is essential that we all keep in shape and what better way than to shovel snow. Because our winters have become so unpredictable, snow is to be counted as a blessing which insulates lawns and flower beds. This past December we experienced the worst weather conditions for evergreens and shrubs. First came freezing rain, then heavy snow followed by bitter cold. Trees and shrubs were bent over under the weight of the snow which hardened into a concrete like substance. Fortunately these conditions do not occur often so to avoid damage to evergreens and shrubs, brush off heavy accumulations of snow.

Remember to feed the birds all winter as they are a gardener's best friends. It is impossible to keep squirrels away from bird feeders. Each autumn I plant hundreds of bulbs and I have never had a problem with squirrels digging them up because I feed the rodents regularly once the weather turns cold. Feed them peanuts and they are less likely to dig up your bulbs. In the spring you may find peanuts buried in beds; just treat them as compost.

In a winter when there is not a lot of snow, stockpile this precious insulating material and then spread it on perennial and rose beds. If you cannot get exercise from shoveling, get out and walk regularly. Gardening is hard on the back and knees, so in order to save aching muscles in May, keep in shape all winter by going for a brisk walk each day.

Gardening tends to be a solitary experience and yet gardeners love to share tips, exchange plants and plan trips together. If you do not belong to a horticulture society or gardening club, January is the month to join. Peterborough, Omemee, Lakefield and Norwood have horticulture societies;

Millbrook and Bailieboro have garden clubs. The Peterborough Examiner lists when these organizations meet. Gardeners are usually the most friendly and generous people and will welcome you warmly.

Winter in the Kawarthas is a magical season. The days start getting longer. There will be many days ahead when we will have brilliant sunshine so enjoy and celebrate the season.

Ann Greer-Wootten is President of the Peterborough Horticultural Society.