Winter HOME Work

Before Old Man Winter comes a knockin’, be sure to check off the following home, yard, and garden chores. Or else …

HOME (Indoor Plants & Activities)

  • Check houseplant leaves for brown, dry edges, which indicate too little relative humidity in the house. Increase humidity by running a humidifier, grouping plants or using pebble trays.
  • Place holiday plants, such as poinsettias and Christmas cactus, in a cool, brightly lit area that is free from warm or cold drafts. This will help extend their lifespan.
  • Move plants closer to windows, but avoid placing foliage against cold glass panes. Houseplants may not receive adequate light because days are short and gloomy. Artificial lighting may be helpful.
  • Water less. Because growth slows or stops in winter months, most plants will not require as much moisture and little, if any, fertilizer.

If you are forcing bulbs for the holidays, bring them into warmer temperatures after they have been sufficiently pre-cooled. Bulbs require a chilling period of about 10 to 12 weeks at 40 F to initiate flower buds and establish root growth. Pre-cooled bulbs are available from many garden suppliers if you did not get yours cooled in time. Then, provide two to four weeks of warm temperature (60 F), bright light and moderately moist soil to bring on flowers.

YARD (Lawns, Woody Ornamentals, and Fruits)

  • Prevent bark-splitting of young and thin-barked trees, such as fruit and maple trees. Wrap trunks with tree wrap, or paint trunks with white latex (not oil-based) paint, particularly on the south- and southwest-facing sides.
  • Protect shrubs, such as junipers and arborvitae, from extensive snow loads by tying their stems together with twine. Carefully remove heavy snow loads with a broom to prevent limb breakage.
  • Protect broad leaves, evergreens or other tender landscape plants from excessive drying (desiccation) by winter sun and wind. Canvas, burlap, or polyethylene plastic screens to the south and west protect the plants. Similarly, shield plants from salt spray on the street side.
  • Provide winter protection for roses by mounding soil approximately 12 inches high to insulate the graft union, after plants are dormant and temperatures are cold. Additional organic mulch, such as straw compost or chopped leaves, can be placed on top.

GARDEN (Flowers, Vegetables, and Small Fruits)

  • Protect newly planted or tender perennials and bulbs by mulching with straw, chopped leaves, or other organic material after plants become dormant.
  • Store leftover garden chemicals where they will stay dry, unfrozen and out of the reach of children, pets, and unsuspecting adults.
  • Once the plants are completely dormant and temperatures are consistently below freezing, winter mulch can be applied to protect strawberries and other tender perennials. In most cases, 2-4 inches of organic material, such as straw, pine needles, hay, or bark chips, will provide adequate protection.
  • Check produce and tender bulbs in storage, and discard any that show signs of decay, such as mold or softening. Shriveling indicates insufficient relative humidity.
  • Clean up dead plant materials, synthetic mulch, and other debris in the vegetable garden, as well as in the flowerbeds, rose beds, and orchards.
  • Order seed catalogs, and make notes for next year’s garden.

B. Rosie Lerner is the Purdue Extension Consumer Horticulturist at Purdue University, West Lafayette.

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