Gardening may not be the first thing on your mind this time of year; however, winter is the ideal time for planning ahead for the upcoming spring.
While the snow is falling outdoors, you can spend your spare time reading gardening books and searching online for inspiration for your landscape. Take the opportunity to research different plants and gardening techniques to increase your knowledge and improve your skills. While you're at it, make an inventory of the plants in your garden and note any changes you'd like to make. If you're planning a new bed, take a moment to sketch out what you have in mind on some graph paper. If you grow vegetables, plan to rotate your crops. Doing so will prevent disease and allow the plants to absorb maximum nutrients from the soil.
Do you have your gardening tools tucked away in your garage or shed for the winter? If so, now is the time to take them out and begin to prepare them for spring. Pruners and other tools can be cleaned with rubbing alcohol or a solution of one cup of bleach in a gallon of water. Keeping your tools clean is incredibly important because it prevents the spread of disease and fungus in the garden. Sharpen your gardening tools to maximize their efficiency and apply oil to prevent rusting. By taking the time to do this, you will increase the lifespan of your tools. Before reusing containers, sterilize them with the previously mentioned bleach solution to eliminate any pest or disease left behind from the previous season. When they become available at local garden centers, go ahead and stock up on items like potting soil and mulch.
While the outdoor plants are enjoying their winter dormancy, houseplants require year-round care. Most houseplants do not actively grow over the winter, so they require less water now than they normally would. Be sure to keep the environment humid around any tropical plants by placing a tray of gravel and water under the plant, but keeping the pot elevated so it does not sit in the water. Even with careful inspection, insects can sneak into your home on plants that spend the growing season outdoors. Eliminate any insects on your houseplants with an organic insecticidal soap, keeping the infested plants away from the others until the insects are gone. Keep houseplant leaves free of dust with a spritz of water or a damp cloth and remember to turn them regularly to allow eachside to absorb some sunlight. If any of your houseplants are root-bound or outgrowing their containers, take advantage of the opportunity to repot them now before they resume their growing cycle. Also, don't forget to check on any tender bulbs in storage indoors for the winter and toss any that have become dried out or mushy.
Of course, there are some tasks that need to be done in the garden over the winter. If your winter mulch has deteriorated, replenish it as needed to ensure your plants are well protected. To prevent damage from limbs breaking, keep excess snow removed from small trees and shrubs. Allow any ice on trees and shrubs to melt on its own as chipping it off can do more harm than good. If any branches do break due to snow or wind, prune them off with a clean cut so the bark does not tear any further. Always allow ice around the base of your plants to melt naturally.Removing it manually can cause damage to the roots and stems. If you notice any plants that have heaved from the ground after a cycle of freezing and thawing, press them firmly back into place. Since they tend to lose a lot of moisture over the winter, water broadleaf and needled evergreens once per week when the ground is dry and unfrozen. All other plants should be watered once every 2-4 weeks if the ground is unfrozen and rainfall is scarce.
Winter may seem long and dreary, but remember that spring is right around the corner! In the meantime, you can prepare for its arrival by keeping your tools, houseplants and garden in top shape.

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