Do you love the quiet, cold days of winter, or do you prefer to bask in the rays of the summer sun? I happen to enjoy both, but for many gardeners, winter is an uninvited vacation from their favorite pastime. The good news is that there’s plenty of things that anxious gardeners can do inside that’ll keep their green thumbs growing when it’s cold out.

Houseplant leaves
A good leaf-dusting can make a huge difference in your plant’s overall health and appearance.
Photo Credit: Sarah L. Ivy
Garden plan
Whether simple or complex, a solid landscape design is always helpful to have before you start digging.
Photo Credit: Sarah L. Ivy
Gardening books
Looking through books and catalogs is a great way to find out which plants you’d like to try in your own garden.
Photo Credit: Sarah L. Ivy

For starters, you can tend to your indoor garden – all those nice houseplants and floral arrangements that often get a bit neglected while you’re busy tending to your landscape during the growing season. Winter’s a great time of year to pamper these plants that add so much color and texture to the home. While your potted plants do go through a winter dormancy period and their growth slows, they still need watering and dusting.

So when should you water? Well, the finger may know best. As a general rule of thumb, stick your finger into the potting soil. If the soil’s moist, don’t water the plant. If it’s dry, water. It’s as simple as that.

The plant-care part that’s not so simple is dusting, and our indoor potted beauties seem to be dust magnets. (And unfortunately, dusting happens to be one of my least favorite chores.) As annoying as dusting can be, it has to be done. Dust blocks sunlight from plant leaves, decreasing the rate of photosynthesis and clogging stomata (openings in the leaf surface). Both can restrict houseplant growth. One way to clear off the dust is to gently wipe each leaf with a damp cloth. But if you’re a lazy duster (like me), just give your plants a rinse in the shower. Voilà – dusting done!

And don’t give up on fresh flower arrangements just because you can’t get the blooms from your own garden. What room can’t use the breath of fresh air that cutflowers bring – especially in the midst of those winter “blahs?” Just try to change the water every day so your cheery bloomers last as long as they possibly can. (And if you notice cloudy water, you’re way past due.) You’ll also be doing your flowers a favor if you snip an inch or so off the base of the stems and rinse the vase (if possible) before adding fresh water.

Of course you’ll still have plenty of time in between caring for your houseplants and floral arrangements to think about your outdoor garden. In fact, before you even consider heading out the door come springtime, you should have a garden plan in place. So winter’s a great time to think about any changes and additions you’d like to make in your yard, including designing new garden beds and researching plants to add to your existing planting space. In addition to Learn2Grow®, look through gardening books and catalogs for more inspiration and tips – as well as to get an idea of what plants look like at maturity to see if they’ll actually work in your plan.

Need more inspiration? Look no further than your living room. Grab a cup of hot cocoa, get comfy in your favorite recliner and grab that remote. There are lots of wonderful gardening programs on television year-round. Check out your local public broadcasting station or garden networks. Not only will you get some sound gardening advice, you’re sure to get plenty of ideas that’ll set your gardening brain to “high gear.”

If you still need something to keep your green thumbs busy, grab your calendar and mark the dates to tackle large landscape projects during the year. Don’t forget to write down the dates for starting your vegetable garden and other seeds, too. If nothing else, it’ll serve as a great “countdown to gardening.”

Winter’s also a great time to figure out how much lime and fertilizer you’ll need to add to your landscape beds. So grab your soil-test recommendations, and get calculating (or go online and let a fertilizer calculator do it for you). The math may not be tons of fun, but having these numbers figured out before you need them will save time when it comes to fertilizing.

And if you haven’t done a soil sample in the past three years (or ever), don’t fret. Winter’s a fine time to get one done – as long as your ground isn’t frozen solid. In fact, taking a sample now may be just the brief outing you need to relieve some of those cooped-up blahs that come from being stuck inside. (And for sure you’ll beat the crowds sending their soil samples in come spring.)

Still can’t get enough of the outdoors? Well, if you didn’t already do it in fall, get your gardening tools ready for spring. Head on out to the shed or garage and give your horticultural weapons a good look. Check to see if you’ve got all the tools you need for the growing season, and make sure they’re clean, sharp and ready to work come spring. If they’re not, clean your tools, sharpen the blades and make a run to the store to replace or repair any broken equipment.

If all that’s not enough to keep you busy over winter, give your local Cooperative Extension office a call. If you have questions regarding your landscape or particular plants, someone will be glad to answer them with the latest research-based information. And while you’re on the phone, don’t forget to ask if there are any workshops or winter programs being offered.

Above all, stay warm this winter and try to enjoy your time off from the garden. Spring will be upon us soon enough. Before you know it, you’ll be busy as a bee, buzzing about your yard once more!