If you find yourself hanging around the house this holiday weekend, it might be a good time to catch up on your garden.
Yes, in the fall.
In fact, gardening in the winter and fall can help prepare your garden for the spring, says Debra Knapke, a garden consultant in Columbus, Ohio, and owner of The Garden Sage.
“Planting bulbs, going out and weeding, edging beds, you know, it all depends on what your plans are for the next year,” she says. “And that might be the first thing you might think about doing is looking at what didn’t work last year and trying to figure out how you can make it work next year, or just throw it out and start over.”
In recent years, it’s gotten more difficult to plan for the spring because the seasons have been “truncated,” Knapke says. Plants also suffer from extreme freeze-thaw cycles.
“It’s all about finding plants that are resilient and adaptable,” she says. “And that can become difficult because we don’t know yet how all of our plants are going to react to these changes in climate.”
For the next week, Knapke suggests planting any bulbs that may be sitting in the garage.
Bulbs that bloom in the spring like daffodils and tulips are planted in the fall, she says, while bulbs that bloom in the summer are planted in the spring after the frost departs.
Last year, she says she planted bulbs up until Christmas though she grew mostly leaves and few flowers.
To further prepare for spring, gardeners can keep up with weeding. One winter weed to look out for is winter bittercress.
An infestation of winter bittercress can start from a mere 10 plants, she says.
“It looks like this cute little rosette. It’s so cute. And then it blooms, and it has cute little white flowers and then it makes about a million seeds,” she says. “And the next thing you know, you’re battling this weed every year … and you’re thinking, ‘How in the world did that happen?’”
Weeding is a productive winter gardening task, but Knapke says whether you should rake leaves is a more complicated question.
Leave the leaves alone in areas like the woods, she says. Fallen leaves insulate the plants on the ground and help them grow better in the spring.
One exception to that is if there are plants that could be harmed by having too many leaves on top of them. In this case, spread out the leaves so there’s still some covering the plants but not too many, she says.
Once late-March hits, it’s Knapke’s favorite time to start planting trees and shrubs until mid-April, though she does plant them all season long.
She loves planting perennials until June when the heat hits. Once summer comes to a close, she recommends waiting until the fall or late August and planting perennials until around Oct. 15.
“What I try to do is take my cue from Mother Nature,” she says.
For beginning gardeners, she recommends putting succulents and cacti in a sunny window to enjoy this winter.
Then in spring or summer, fill a vegetable garden with one plant of tomato, chili or pepper.
“Grow one beautiful rose in a pot or in the ground by your front door where you can smell its perfume. Start small and then start adding,” she says, “and give me a call if you have any questions.”