TOO cold to do any gardening?
I think not; there's plenty to do and here are some ideas to get you started with winter gardening work.
Cold weeding is good exercise: Just because it is winter does not mean the weeds have stopped growing. Our mild coastal winters allow a wide range of weeds to continue growing right thorough the winter so they are ready in spring to pop out a fresh crop of seeds to colonize the garden. For those reasons and because there is time now, the middle of winter is one of the best seasons to remove all those stubborn weeds that have withstood all other attempts to remove them.
Hand digging is the most environmentally friendly way to remove weeds while simultaneously providing a good physical workout. Look carefully throughout the garden and within the cracks in paving to find any hiders in the house and remove them now to prevent reseeding in spring.
It's never too cold for division: Winter dormancy provides one of the best opportunities to divide many hardy perennials including hosta, astilbe, hardy geranium, kniphophia, ferns, astrantia, alchemilla, berginia, delphinium, echinacea and many more. As long as your perennials are hardy for our region they can be divided now without any worry of frost damage and 90 per cent of all perennials in North Shore gardens can be divided now. To divide perennials, dig up your plant with a good sized root ball and place it on the lawn or driveway. Use two digging forks and insert them back to back into the middle of your perennial. Then push the forks apart from each other to split your plant.
Never use a shovel or knife to cut perennials because of the excessive tissue damage inflicted by shovels or knifes and frankly, only cavemen use shovels to divide plants. Forks cause a minimal amount of damage and allow roots from opposing sides to be pulled with the splitting division. Replant the plant parts you want in the garden and pot up the extras to give to friends or use for barter with other gardeners. After you have replanted your divisions, always water them into the earth to prevent frost heave and allow for intimate contact between root and soil. Don't forget to mulch your new plantings.
Cold winter pruning: Now is the best time to prune many trees, shrubs and vines if you want to re-structure and invigorate your plants. There is no need to worry about frost damage on the cut stems as long as you prune when the temperature is above freezing and you restrict pruning to hardy plants. Last week at the UBC Botanical Garden I trained the students on winter pruning of climbing vines such as wisteria, kiwi and grape to restructure and develop new growth.
Fruit trees will also benefit from winter pruning as long as they are not pruned too hard and the restructuring is followed by a summer pruning to direct the resulting growth. Do not use wound paint; it causes rot to develop. Do not make sloped or angled cuts; they are wrong, archaic and unnecessary. Always clean your pruning tools before use to prevent the spread of diseases and to improve tool efficiency.
Too cold outside? There's work inside.
Winter is the best time to maintain and repair gardening tools and equipment. All those dull shovels and spades can be sharpened using a file, and you can do it by hand at home. Simply work the leading edge of the shovel with the file, pushing in one direction at a slight angle to file off any bent edges or to create a clean sharp edge. The wood handles on rakes, shovels, forks etc can be refurbished by sanding them with fine sand paper to remove any slivers or rough spots, making them soft to the touch.
For mechanized equipment like lawn mowers, now is the time to do a tuneup to prepare the mower for summer use. Change the oil, air filter and spark plug.
Clean out the underside of the mower's housing to remove built-up grass clippings. Be sure to tilt up the mower with the air filter on top to avoid running oil through the carburetor.
Have the mower's blade sharpened or replaced as needed. Dull mower blades lead to turf diseases due to the ragged cuts they make.
Sharpen and clean pruning tools to remove built-up plant residue, which could spread disease each time you make a cut. Use graphite to lubricate pruners because graphite is water and temperature resistant, making it the perfect lubricant for our climate.
So there is your midwinter gardening work list and no excuse for not doing it.
Don't forget your gloves, it's chilly out there.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist and chief horticulture instructor at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. For advice contact him at stmajor@shaw. ca.