A New Year in the Garden

January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow. – Sara Coleridge

A new year brings with it new chances to make plans and changes and the opportunity to do just about anything to the garden, all from the comfort of one’s living room. There are many, many weeks left to our long New England winter, so there is plenty of time to plan for next year, and review what was good and what wasn’t quite so successful in these past seasons.

A nice healthy layer of snow provides insulation for those plants sleeping through this cold season, but also a blank canvas for garden beds. Lawn and garden blend together in a seamless blanket. If there are any shrubs around, there is a vague idea of where the beds may be laid; otherwise, this is the perfect opportunity to see your property and gardens through someone else’s eyes. There may be a place for a lilac, or the perfect spot for a new bunch of shrubs or perennials that the layer of snow helps reveal.

Collect ideas for new gardens at the library or bookstore. Gardening magazines are filled with other peoples’ ideas and theories on what works, and often times what doesn’t. New plant announcements come out in the winter months, making us all the more eager for spring. Plans and plant lists are included in many gardening magazines, and if a certain arrangement and selection of plants is just too good to pass up, now is a good time to contact garden centers to see if the more unusual plants will be available next year, or could be specially ordered for your spring planting.

On days when the biting wind is not quite so strong, and we can venture outside the warm comfort of home, this is a good month to start any winter garden maintenance. Considering the aftermath of last month’s ice storm, any warm day is an opportunity to get outside and pick up fallen branches smashing shrubs, or to cleanly cut limbs that have snapped off at jagged angles, leaving a plethora of opportunities for insects or disease organisms to enter an otherwise healthy tree when the weather truly warms up in spring. A clean cut will heal much better than a rough break as well, helping keep a treasured tree alive for many years to come.

Dormant oils and sprays can also be applied at this time of year. Certain diseases of fruit trees require a dormant spray, and there is no better time to do it than on a warm January day. Fungal diseases of peach and apple will often overwinter right on the stems and inside the buds of the trees, and on any leftover fruits. Fruits should be removed and any diseased stems (often indicated by the presence of dried oozy sap on the bark) pruned out. This will open up the crown of the tree a bit as well, improving airflow for the summer months. Any insects that have chosen to overwinter on or in the tree can be smothered and eliminated by the dormant spray, making the opportunity for an all-around healthier tree when spring comes.

When the snow and wind are falling and blowing far too fiercely to even think about venturing outside, a day spent “armchair gardening” is never, ever a wasted day. Books and magazines with photos and stories of warmer seasons can revitalize even the grayest midwinter afternoon, and make us realize that spring isn’t really that far away.