2014-01-03 / From The Garden

Winter Tips for the Garden, Indoors and Out

By Cynthia Gibson


Always remove heavy snow that accumulates on your landscape plants before it freezes and breaks or deforms the branches. Gently lift branches upward with a broom or strong pole and shake the snow off, starting near the top of the plant. If snow has already frozen on the branches, or if there’s ice, it’s best to wait until temperature rises above freezing. Always remove heavy snow that accumulates on your landscape plants before it freezes and breaks or deforms the branches. Gently lift branches upward with a broom or strong pole and shake the snow off, starting near the top of the plant. If snow has already frozen on the branches, or if there’s ice, it’s best to wait until temperature rises above freezing. Like all seasons of the year, winter is inevitable. Aquidneck Island and Jamestown suffered from ice and snow damage on trees and shrubs during the past two years. We have endured our share of blasting winter winds as well. I do not know about you, but this winter I will be prepared.

Salt, or sodium chloride, is the miracle antidote for ice, freezing rain and snow. However, it is one of the worst natural chemicals for your garden, as it will burn your lawn, shrubs and flower beds. Use it with care on your front and back steps and particularly on your driveway, which probably has nearby flower beds or abutting lawns. Sawdust is a great alternative to salt. It will not melt ice but it will give you a bit of grip. Kitty litter works too.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Invest in a long, sturdy broom. If we have one of our notorious sixto twelve-inch snowfalls, give your shrubs and trees a good swipe with the broom to knock the snow off the greenery. Repeat the process after the storm has subsided. You will be very happy that you took the trouble to do this, as there is nothing more upsetting than seeing huge limbs down, broken branches, and privet smashed. Clearing the snow will better maintain the health of your trees and shrubs.

If you have a bit of winter pruning left to do, remember to prune from the bottom of the tree upwards. Always prune so that the end wound is flush with the trunk of the tree. Since most trees are going into dormancy at this time of year, the cut wounds will heal over the winter. It is not too late to remove trees that are not likely to survive another winter.

During the winter, your lawn and grassy areas love snow but hate feet tramping on them. Make sure your paths are clear for walking so a shortcut of foot traffic through your lawn will not kill the crowns of your grass. Grass becomes dry and brittle during the winter, making it very easy to break off and die.

If you have a snow blower and a gravel driveway, please make sure the blower faces far away from fences and garden beds. It hurts to write about this, because I once had a lovely garden bed that no longer needs mulch because the snow blower blew gravel over an eight-foot tall fence right into the bed. This is a surprisingly frequent problem, and digging three inches of gravel out of flower beds in the spring is no easy chore.

Before the winds from the north start blowing, this is one of your last chances to turn over outdoor pots and planters to avoid breakage from ice and freezing temperatures.

As for the poinsettias you purchased for the holidays, make sure to keep them away from drafts and water them moderately. They like being damp, not wet.

Pinch back your houseplants so that they will form new leaves and become bushier. There is nothing worse than walking into a doctor’s office and seeing one or two scraggly attempts at indoor gardening. Something as simple as rotating your houseplants once a week, so that all sides get an equal amount of sun, will contribute to healthy houseplants.

This time of year, Christmas cactuses are a popular gift. Be aware, however, that many of the indoor plants that have been greenhouse grown are loaded with hidden insects. Check your poinsettias, their soil, and the soil of all new plants. If you do, you might stop an epidemic of mites, wooly aphids, and goodness knows what else that may be lurking in commercial soil.

I use trays filled with smooth black pebbles placed on top of radiators for indoor plants during the winter. The trays are always filled with water and create humidity in the room in addition to watering. You can purchase decorative trays from your favorite nursery or plant store. The old-fashioned copper trays are the most charming. The dry heat of winter is no better for a houseplant than it is for your skin. Chaves Garden Center in Middletown always has a lovely collection of pots and trays for indoor gardening.

Houseplant leaves also appreciate an occasional bath. Rinse off larger-leaved plants like philodendrons, rubber trees, and dracaena. Rinsing off the leaves of orchid plants is a good idea, too, as the water bath opens up the pores of the broad leaves.

This is a great time to visit nurseries and their heated greenhouses. Chaves in Middletown and Peckham’s in Little Compton have lovely greenhouses to stroll through in the dead of winter. Select a new plant and pot for your window, or be a bit extravagant and buy that topiary rosemary. Its fragrance and beauty will please you daily. Moreover, when you pinch it back you can using the small leaf bits for cooking.

There is something wonderful and exotic about seeing flowers in bloom in one’s home during the winter. I am so grateful for the lovely gifts of amaryllis this year and cannot wait to see the huge trumpets of color next week. Later in the month it will be time for the indoor and greenhouse citrus to start blooming. These heavenly scents take the bite out of winter.

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