Monday, February 8, 2016

Six Winter Gardening Activities

When describing me, my friends use the phrase, "Obsessed with gardening." They ask, "How do you cope in the winter months?" knowing that I need dirt under my nails to survive. I usually answer that I relish the downtime to recuperate. That's far from the truth, however, as I am busier than ever with gardening tasks at this time of year:

1. Planning my 2016 gardens

Every year I promise H.H. that I will not add any more gardens, but will focus on improving the ones I have. The herbaceous border along the kitchen garden fence has a very wet corner caused by water from the basement sump pump when we have rain: The perfect spot for a rain garden. Oops, is that a new garden? Of course not; just an improvement. Oh, and the area where I put a fake rock to hide the septic tank outlet looks like a pet's grave. If I expand the bed to make a rock garden it would create a better disguise, plus I've always wanted a rock garden. (Just another improvement, dear H.H.) I'm making sketches as I research rain-garden plants and how to create a rock-garden.

I did not bury a deceased pet here!

Yesterday, I ordered vegetable and annual flower seeds. First I made plans/diagrams for the 2016 kitchen garden, the herb-garden trug and some of my planters. I ordered from Annie's again as I love her heirloom seeds. I wrote about them, Why Choose Heirloom Seeds. I added to this year's list some vegetables I haven't grown before: leeks and Brussel sprouts. I'm also going to try growing garlic for the first time. I ordered all my favorite annual flowers: sunflowers, pansies, snapdragons, marigolds, zinnias. I direct sow most of the vegetables into the garden, but start the annuals indoors. I'll be setting up a seed-starting station later this month when it's time to sow pansy and Johnny-jump-ups. I have some exciting new perennial and annual seeds to sample: three types of allium, eutrochium dubium, impatiens balfourii, mina lobata, and three different poppies. I received them from Nan at Hayfield and can't wait to try them. Thanks, Nan. I am thrilled.

Spent hours perusing the catalogs

Ordered tried-and-true favorite vegetable seeds and a few new varieties.

I'm planning to add some color to the herb-garden trug with a climbing nasturtium for its trellis. I was disappointed with the growth rate of the plants last year, the trug's first year. I'm wondering about the hours of sunlight in that position on the patio -- maybe not enough? I don't know where to put it ... need a discussion with H.H.

Where to relocate the herb garden?

Planning for the new gardening season is probably my favorite winter activity, but there are others ...

 2. Preparing for the Great Backyard Bird Count

This year's count is February 12 - 15. I love this wonderful activity. To participate take three easy steps: 1. Click on the link in my sidebar and register. 2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. 3. Enter your results on the GBBC website or use their free eBird app to enter on your mobile device. If you don't know the names of the birds in your backyard use the Online Bird Guide. There may be some interesting results this year with El Nino.

House finch

Bluebird braving the recent blizzard.

3. Tidying the potting shed and taking a tool inventory

I spent a couple of hours working in the potting shed recently. As I looked for a lost seed box, I tidied and checked the tools. They all need cleaning (I know, I shouldn't have put them away dirty) a job for warmer weather. Only the hand pruners need replacing. I'm very hard on hand pruners and, although extravagant, I like to begin the gardening season with new. I ordered Corona pruners (from Amazon) because Corona Tools gave a gift of snippers to each attendee at the 2015 Garden Writers' Conference in Pasadena and I absolutely love mine. Good marketing strategy, right?

Nearly time to set up the grow lights along the bench for seed starting.

4. Forcing shrubs to flower

I took my trusty snippers and gathered forsythia branches for forcing. I described the method I used in a previous posting:

I added floral preservative to a bucket of warm water and set it on one side. I filled a sink with hot water (but not hot enough to scald my hands) then, holding the stems underwater, I recut each branch at a sever angle a couple of inches above the original cut. Hot water is important because it contains the least amount of oxygen which can block water from being taken up, preventing hydration. After recutting the branches, I placed them in the prepared bucket of water and put them in a cool place. I will change the water and add new preservative each week. As the buds start to swell and burst into bloom, I will arrange the branches in vases.

Soon I will add branches of mock orange, crabapple and weeping cherry.

5. Continuing care of houseplants and cuttings.

The cuttings I made last fall are not doing too well. As often happens, I allowed them to dry out too much when I traveled to Arizona. When I set up my grow lights, I will put them under to see if that helps. My houseplants, however, continue to thrive!

 6. Searching for the subtle signs of spring.

I found a sweet snowdrop on February 4 this year. Looking back on my blog postings of previous years: March 15, 2014 "there were no snowdrops" and last year I posted on March 22 that I was "thrilled to find the first snowdrop." My little 2016 snowdrop was six weeks ahead of time! Spring is going to be early; the groundhog was right.

February 4, 2016

A few daffodils are starting to push up shoots and hellebores are full of fat buds. A sign of the milder winter, the roof garden on the bluebird house looks very healthy with no brown succulents.

Bluebirds shelter here from the cold winter wind.

These six activities keep me busy, but I have more. Every day I write: my monthly newspaper article, a blog posting, and/or my book. I prepare for speaking engagements in which I conduct gardening workshops (I have 5 scheduled for March -- whew!) I volunteer at the Extension office, currently reorganizing the Master Gardener Library. When I need to take a break, I relax by the den fireplace and read gardening books and magazines.

Yes, I'm obsessed with everything 'gardening' and I love it!

Pamela x

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  1. I like your garden obsession, they say (family and friends) that I'm an obsessed gardener too. Well, why not at least we do no harm to anything or anyone. I must say that I love that succulent roof on your bird shelter, good idea. I also like the idea of the trellis on the herbtable, it creates height and will look wonderful with Nasturtium.
    I'm also rummaging the seedcatalogues, rather difficult, for my eyes are bigger than my garden.

    1. I love your expression, "eyes bigger than the garden," Janneke. I hope you don't mind if I steal that one? P. x

  2. Excellent post. I'm delighted to see you'll be participating in the GBBC, one of my favorite citizen science projects.

  3. your garden shed looks an inviting place to spend time. Love the colours!

    1. I love my shed, Diana. I would like to own a greenhouse, but too expensive. My potting shed is really the best of both worlds with its bench under a south facing window. P. x

  4. Oh my you will be busy with all your activities and plans. Your garden work space is wonderful. I love that it has all that light. A friend of mine makes those succulent-roof birdhouses. They are so pretty, as is yours.

  5. I don't think you get a break from gardening the whole year round, and I know you like it that way. I can always find gardening related things to do during the winter months, plenty enough to keep me interested. We had our garden birdwarch last weekend but I didn't get time to do it this year, I do love watching the birds though, we get quite a variety visiting our garden these days.

  6. You really know how to get through the winter months with your garden spirit intact!

  7. I'm glad you are able to keep yourself occupied during the "non-gardening months," Pam. It sound like you have many projects going, and even more planned for your gardens this spring. And I love your potting shed -- is it heated, or attached to your house? I've been puzzling about whether a greenhouse would be useful here in Iowa -- not many gardeners I know around here use them, unlike in your native country, where they are certainly of much greater use to gardeners. Hope the groundhog was right and spring comes early! -Beth

  8. This is the life Pam! I think your friends are asking the wrong question though - shouldn't it be; how do you find time to do all this? Enjoy your new seeds and planning those garden "improvements". Spring will be here before we know it.

  9. Oh Pam you have described all my favorite winter gardening activities! I just put my veg garden plan together recently. Can;t wait!

  10. You put me to shame. My tools are neglected, I haven't made any plans and I haven't ordered any seed. But even so, the subject of gardening finds ways to sneak into my thoughts and activities. Like you, I am gardening obsessed!