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What to Do This Winter in Your Garden

Outdoor Living Expert P. Allen Smith provides a checklist for winter work
Release Date: 12/19/2011

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VIRGINIA BEACH , Va. Winter is a time to prepare your lawn and garden for the upcoming year. The number one selling brand of gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment in America*, STIHL, has teamed up with outdoor living expert P. Allen Smith to bring you the best tips to get ready for a glorious garden in 2012.


Late Fall and Early Winter

  • Now is the time to begin mulching perennials, shrubs and trees. In warmer climates, do this at the end of the season. Further north, wait until the plants have become dormant or the top one inch of soil freezes. In very cold climates, adding an additional layer of mulch after the ground freezes prevents frost heaving during milder winter temperatures. You will want to keep the mulch at least six inches away from the trunks of trees to prevent critters from nesting and chewing on the woody stems and trunks.


  • Move containers of plants that are not hardy to protected spaces where they will not freeze. A garage will generally keep plants cool enough to keep them dormant but not allow the soil to freeze.


  • Making leaf mold or compost is relatively easy by blowing leaves and shredding them, or mowing them to shreds, and piling them up for the winter. STIHL makes this task easy with shredder vacs that also convert into blowers. Once your leaf pile is ready, moisten them if necessary and cover the pile with a tarp. This helps keep the pile warm and moist to help it break down faster. You are making pure gold for your garden!


  • In areas where deer and rodents are a problem, prevent them from chewing on the trunks of young trees by wrapping the trunks with hardware cloth .


  • Double check any houseplants that were brought in for winter, too, make sure that invading pests such as aphids or mealy bugs are not becoming a problem. If you find them, treat the plants before the pests have a chance to move to other plants causing an even bigger problem.


  • You will want to be sure to monitor the precipitation, including snow and ice, in your area and water, if necessary, to prevent winter drought. If you need to water, make sure the temperatures are above 40 degrees and that it’s early enough, around the middle of the day, so that the water will be able to soak in before freezing night temperatures.


  • In Southern areas, the dormant season is a great time to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials, so they can root in over the winter and be ready to grow in the spring. A planting auger from STIHL is ideal for mass flower plantings or deep root fertilization. When you install bulbs, make sure to plant them when the temperatures are cool enough to prevent any top growth but so they still have several weeks of cold to produce blooms for spring.



  • This is the best time to clean up and winterize all your hand and motorized tools and equipment. STIHL has a great “how-to” section of their website that explains how to properly prepare and store 2-cycle outdoor power equipment. Their step-by-step instruction is really recommended any time you will not be using the tools for 30 days or more.


  • When it’s too cold to go outside, think about building insulated cold frames to be able to start flowers and vegetables earlier in the spring and extend your harvests later in the fall. In a zone 7 garden for example, frost blankets work very well during our milder spring and fall weather. Further in the north, using straw bales or insulated wood boxes are necessary to protect cold hardy plants.


  • If you have not done so already, draw a diagram of your vegetable garden as it was this year, and begin planning your crop rotations for next year’s garden. This pre-planning makes structuring and planting the garden in the spring easier and faster.


  • To set up an indoor light system, replace any fluorescent light bulbs, if needed; and make sure everything is in working order to begin starting seeds for flowers and vegetables at the appropriate time for your region. Begin with cool season flowers, such as pansies, violas and snapdragons, and vegetables, such as broccoli and salad greens, to get a jump on the season.


  • You can grow small pots of herbs in sunny windows or under lights, so you have easy access to snip and use in your recipes. This is a great way to interest kids in growing plants, especially when they can add them to the recipe themselves.


  • If there are predictions of a very severe cold snap approaching, protect evergreens from drying out by wrapping them with a frost protection cover or using an anti-desiccant to prevent the leaves or needles from drying out. If you choose to use an anti-desiccant, be sure to follow all directions on the label.


  • During milder temperatures, always check perennials; and if they have heaved out of the ground, push them back down or use some extra mulch for protection until the weather warms up.


  • You can start an indoor worm bin using old newspapers torn into strips for bedding, and add kitchen vegetable wastes for them to feed on. You will be producing “worm castings” for your houseplants or garden – another great organic fertilizer. This is another good way to get kids interested in gardening.


  • During each mild spell in the weather, check the vegetable garden beds, securing row covers as needed to protect early spring crops.


Late Winter and Early Spring

  • Nowis the time to start checking fruit trees for pests and use a dormant spray if necessary. Prune out dead wood, crossing branches and open up the center of the tree so more sun can reach the interior. I find a pole pruner can be very beneficial for this, and STIHL offers both manual or powered.


  • Check ornamental shrub and perennial borders, pruning out dead wood, and cut back dead flower stalks and grasses prior to new growth beginning in the spring. It is much easier to take the time to do this now rather than have to worry about pruning around the new growth, and the STIHL KombiSystem with the power scythe attachment can make this quick work.


  • As the ground begins to thaw in the spring, start working the soil in the vegetable garden if you did not do so in the fall. Turn the soil in large, shovel-full sized chunks and leave it to help the soil drain and warm. You should not overwork the soil if it is very wet. This is also a good time to begin adding soil amendments by layering them over the top and turning them in later when you prepare the beds for planting.


  • As the weather warms, you can begin turning your compost and leaf piles during thaws and recover them to help them retain heat. If the pile has gotten too wet, add some dry leaves or straw to the mix to dry it out and keep it heating. A good rule of thumb is to keep your pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge.


  • If you haven’t already done so, you should check perennial vegetables and fruits, such as asparagus and raspberries, and remove the dead fronds and canes. Add a top dressing of fertilizer at this time to get them off to a good start.


  • As spring draws nearer, clean up winter weeds in the garden, beds and borders; and put down a pre-emergent to prevent weed seeds from germinating, following to the manufacturer’s instructions. Be sure you do NOT use this where you will want seeds to germinate such as in the vegetable garden. A pre-emergent does not differentiate between a weed seed and a flower or vegetable seed. Organic corn gluten is a good pre-emergent for lawns as it is comprised of nitrogen and will feed your lawn at the same time.


  • Begin planting cool season annual flowers and vegetables in the garden and starting seeds for warm season vegetables such as eggplant and tomatoes as the weather begins to warm up!


About P. Allen Smith

Smith is the author of the best-selling Garden Home book series and is considered one of the foremost gardening and outdoor living experts in the country. In addition to his own nationally-syndicated television series on commercial networks, P. Allen Smith Gardens, he also hosts P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home on public television and is a frequent guest on the TODAY Show. Smith has received several national awards for helping to educate and inspire the American public about the joys of gardening.


About STIHL Inc.
STIHL Inc. manufactures the number one selling brand of gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment in America for homeowners and professional landscapers*, as well as the number one selling brand of chainsaws in the world. STIHL products are sold through servicing power equipment retailers from coast to coast — not mass merchants. STIHL products sold through U.S. STIHL dealers are for distribution in the United States only. For more information or for the name of a local STIHL retailer, call toll free 1-800-GO STIHL (1-800-467-8445) or visit the dealer locator on the STIHL website at


*"Number one selling brand" is based on syndicated Irwin Broh Research (commercial landscapers) as well as independent consumer research of 2009-2011 U.S. sales and market share data for the gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment category combined sales to consumers and commercial landscapers.


STIHL is the official handheld outdoor power equipment sponsor of both P. Allen Smith Gardens and

P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home and is pleased to support the work of Independent We Stand , the Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund) , International Society of Arboriculture (ISA ), the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) , National FFA , Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) , the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) , and the National Association of State Park Directors .



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