Winter Garden Chores

Spring through fall is a very busy time for gardeners.  While winter is a rather quiet time, gardeners shouldn’t neglect a few winter chores. 
Landscape Inspections
Mice, rabbits, and deer may feed on trees and shrubs during the winter months and severely damage or destroy plants.  Damage is most likely to occur when food is scare during prolonged periods of snow cover.  Mice and rabbits may girdle the trunks of small trees, effectively destroying them.  Deer may devour the foliage on the lower branches of arborvitae, pines, and other evergreens.
Periodically inspect trees and shrubs in the home landscape through the winter months.  If browsing damage is spotted, immediately protect plants with fencing. 
Snow Removal
The weight of heavy, wet snow can cause considerable damage to small trees and shrubs. When heavy, wet snow accumulates on small trees and shrubs gently shake the snow from their branches or carefully brush off the snow with a broom. 
Winter (December through February) is the best time to prune oak trees in Iowa.  Pruning oak trees in winter greatly reduces the risk of an oak wilt infection. 
Late February and March are excellent times to prune fruit trees, shade trees, grapevines, raspberries, and deciduous shrubs.  Pruning should be completed before the plants begin to leaf out in spring. 
Seed Starting Supplies
If you intend to start flower and vegetable seedlings indoors, make sure that you have seeds, a germination medium, containers, and other supplies on hand. 
Flower and vegetable seeds can be purchased at local garden centers.  Seeds are also available from numerous mail-order companies, such as Stokes Seeds and Park Seed Company. 
Commercially prepared soilless mixes, such as Jiffy Mix, are excellent seed-starting media.  The germination medium should be lightweight, porous, and free of pathogens. 
Suitable containers for germinating and growing transplants include flats, trays, cell packs, pots, compressed peat pellets, and other commercial products.  Cut-off milk cartons or plastic jugs, paper cups, and egg cartons can also be used to start seedlings indoors. 
While seedlings can be grown in a sunny window, best results are obtained by growing plants under fluorescent lights.  A standard fluorescent shop fixture containing two 40-watt tubes (one cool white and one warm white) works fine.  The lights can be turned on and off by an inexpensive timer.
Feed the Birds
Finally, continue to feed the birds until April or May.  Food is especially important during periods of harsh winter weather.  Also, make sure the birds have access to water.  Bird bath heaters and heated bird baths are available at many garden centers, farm stores, and other retailers. 


For gardeners, winter is the time to attend to a few chores, relax, and dream.  Spring will eventually arrive.  That’s when the fun really begins.

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on December 12, 2014. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.